Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Road Less Traveled By

This speech will be talked about for decades to come. It will be taught in universities. It will be remembered as a pivotal moment in a country's history. I hope it is remembered as a road taken, not an opportunity missed. The transcript is here, and an extract is below:

"We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

"We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. That is one option.

"Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"

Take the road less traveled this time, America, because here is the astonishing news: "At 11:00 on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race . . . as though they were adults" (Jon Stewart).

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
From "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

You can make a contribution to the journey here. Then find out how to get involved locally here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

So let the waves come; they will anyway

Water. I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. As a troubled teen, I used to sit for hours on a huge rock lodged in the middle of a river and watch the water slipping softly by on both sides. There was something unspeakably soothing in its constancy. When it hit obstacles, it simply ran around them. It was infinitely gentle, absolutely unstoppable.

When I grew up, I moved to live near the sea and later to the beautiful English Lake District. From an early age, my children played in, around, and on the water too. I used to walk them home from school via our river where we would often stop to paddle or mess about with mud and sticks. In the holidays, I would take them camping by the beach at Whitby or rowing on Ullswater or Buttermere.

When we came to Dallas just over five years ago, we brought very little. You cannot carry a house on your back when you cross an ocean. There were the children’s toys, some clothes, a few of our most treasured books—and a small yellow dinghy that has been gathering dust in the garage for far too long. It’s hard to say why I would bring a dinghy to Dallas, but there it is, a message, a reminder.

Today, I unearthed it from its dusty hiding place and took it out to White Rock Lake with Lizzy who is always good for a lark. Joy rolled her eyes and stayed home; at 13, she is both too old and too young to mess about in boats.

Finding my dinghy, rowing out onto the water again, was like unwrapping a present sent to me from a younger—and perhaps wiser—self. Life has been a little choppy of late, and there have been days and weeks when I have felt the water has been almost over my head. I have felt that I was, as Stevie Smith put it so well, “not waving, but drowning.” It has been hard to breathe at times, and I don’t fool myself that there aren’t more of those times to come. But today, in the sunshine, with cold, wet pants, bare, muddy feet, and laughing birds wheeling overhead, I remembered that water has always been my friend.

So let the waves come; they will anyway.

Lizzy and I laughed as we sat in the middle of the lake in less than dry condition, reciting lines from one of our favorite poems by Edward Lear:

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, ‘How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Lizzy looked down at her damp feet and, for the first time, questioned the efficacy of the pinky paper all folded neat. We agreed it probably hadn’t worked very well.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hanging with Senator Chris Dodd

Senator Chris Dodd stopped by the law offices of Kelly and Witherspoon Sunday evening with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. There was no fanfare. They just wanted to come by and encourage the local volunteers who have been campaigning so hard in the last few weeks--among the hardest workers, as usual, were Joy and Lizzy, proudly pictured here with the Senator.

Senator Dodd is a lovely, gently spoken, inspirational figure who reeks of integrity. He thanked us all for our work and told us a little about why he's supporting Barack Obama. He congratulated me on my first vote as a US citizen.

Both Senator Dodd and Governor Napolitano let us know we get to rest for a day after the primary, but then it's back to work for the long, hard haul to the White House. Anyone who thinks the next step is going to be easy is fooling themselves, they told us. When the Democratic party gets together around Obama's candidacy, THAT's when the big guns will come out.

I believe it, but I'm also encouraged by the way some moderate Republicans (Obamicans, they call themselves!) have been reacting to our candidate. They see him as an inspirational leader that America needs. And they didn't just tell me that. My two new Republican friends told countless voters too as we phone banked together through the day.

In other news, it was slightly disconcertibng to be followed around a Fiesta parking lot by CBS news this morning who stuck a mike down my shirt and listened in as I talked to voters and flyposted leaflets--before being asked to leave by the manager who didn't disclose who he was supporting in the primary! The guys told me the segment would be on the news this evening. I don't know whether it was, but I enjoyed my chat with the reporter once the mike had been removed and I could once more think straight. He hasn't voted yet but will be doing so on March 4. He's not sure whether he'll go back in the evening to caucus. And no... He didn't tell me who was getting his vote!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Volunteering at the Fort Worth Rally

I kept my daughters off school on Thursday, as you can see (left, at the top of the picture).

We have been volunteering locally at weekends for the Obama campaign and received an invitation to help at the Fort Worth Convention Center rally where thousands of people were expected to come and hear the Senator speak. We arrived six hours before the event, as requested.

Joy and I got separated from Lizzy early on. She called us gleefully from the main floor where she was acting as a runner and helping seat disabled visitors. Joy called her sister a "punk" under her breath; she and I were stuck outside helping get satellite trucks parked and keeping others away. Told we would not be forgotten and then (it seemed) promptly abandoned, we stood in the exhaust fumes of ABC and Faux news vans with two other volunteers and did our job faithfully for hour after hour.

Now, I'm a campaigner for hope, but I think I'm a realist too. My new friend, Ada, was adamant someone would come back for us eventually, but I began to try to let my co-workers down gently. "You know," I said, "I'm sure they mean well, but they have hundreds of volunteers to coral, and thousands upon thousands are pouring this way. The number of jobs they're working on in there will keep multiplying. We need to face the fact that we might not get in. Heck--the four of us are the only volunteers here who haven't even been able to get our credentials. We have nothing to prove we're in any way connected to the campaign--and now they've locked the doors for the bomb sweep."

But even at hour three, Ada was adamant. "The press director said he'd come back and get us. We're gonna be just fine. This is a campaign of integrity," she told me firmly. "They'll keep their word."

I had no doubt Brandon, the busy press director who left us with the trucks, meant to keep his word, but he had a lot on his plate, what with the Secret Service (who I tried to wave away at one point thinking they were visitors parking in my Sat truck spots--whoops!), the growing press crowd, and the sheer volume of logistics he had to juggle. I wasn't holding my breath that integrity alone would reach as far from the center of action as a side road full of trucks and cables where four slowly roasting volunteers waved on the traffic and dreamt of the possibility of a restroom sighting somewhere in the distant future.

...which all goes to show that I have a lot to learn about hope...

Just after hour three, back came Brandon to the rescue. The police were closing the road, so we were no longer needed to act as human traffic signs. He hadn't forgotten us. He walked us through every security check point, informing even the Secret Service that "These four are good; they're with me." He thanked us for our work and told us we were getting the best seats in the house. Then he politely but firmly argued us through every official until we were sitting on the risers right behind where the Senator would speak--with a bird's eye view behind the screen to where he would arrive backstage too. Though Lizzy had been giving me regular bulletins by phone throughout the day, it was a relief to her old mum when she was allowed through to join us too.

All in all, we had an incredible day, and of course being so close to our hero, Obama, was pretty cool, but it's sometimes not the obvious things that have the most impact. Lizzy had particularly enjoyed petting the Secret Service sniffer puppy and working the elevators, and Joy told me it was Brandon (pictured left) who was her new role model. We ran into him picking litter in his suit after the event was over, and Joy got her photo taken with him. He seemed surprised that she singled him out; it was a shame she never got to tell him why. He was in charge of so much, she told me, but he remembered the little things--like us! That's the kind of person she wants to be when she's all grown up and working in the White House.

In the picture at the top of the post, Lizzy (11), is standing in the middle at the back in the brown T-shirt. Joy (13) is to her right, and I'm to her left. Oh, and the cool-looking dude in the foreground... That's the next president of the United States of America!