Tuesday, January 20, 2009
So many of you are at least vaguely aware of my political history but for those who are not I will give a little bit of the backstory.
At 16 years old in Delaware Ohio I was still an idealogical girl who dared to believe that one voice in a nation so vast could have an impact on the entire poitical process. I would find just 2 short years later that this was the truth.
I campaigned for Bill Clinton before I was old enough to vote and participated in the largest political youth movement since the 60's. We registered 60,000 18-24 year olds for that election and I saw my candidate take the Presidency for the second time.
I had participated in process that instilled in me my faith in my country and my pride as an American.
I worked for Senator Kerry's campaign to raise the very necessary funds for the state of New Mexico which desprately needed the help. It was to be in vain!
Just 4 years after Clinton had taken his leave I would stand before a tv watching election results and feeling all the faith and pride slip away. They were replaced with despondence and shame.I had inteded to enter the once great field of law but in the first four years of the Bush administration I saw the law which I repsected and revered reduced to mere books on a shlef. A literary history of the cases that had set the precedent for how this once great nation had upheld its contsitution.
I watched the very fabric of the country that I had loved and been so secure within ripped at the seams. I had lost the sense of safety that being an amercian had once represented.More than anything I lost the most fundamental thing that being an american had given me and all americans...I lost hope!
With this 2008 election I have to confess to deliberately keeping myself in the dark about most of the details. I had also made a decision not to raise money or campaign, I had been disillusioned by the 2 prior elections to say the least. As the economy continued to spiral downward and I watched friends and colleagues and even many members of my family slip into financial crisis I had to turn my attention to politics again.
I am not a hater of all things McCain there are issues on which he and I agreed(Palin definitely excluded). However, I felt the long journey ahead for whomever was to be the next president would be a very trying one and I did not feel confident a very geriatric candidate was a good choice for the job. I started to study Barack Obama because despite the popular opinion that the color of his skin had something to do with his capacity to run the country;I personally prefer to judge all people on the content of their character.
From the struggles of his youth to his long road to the Democratic candidacy I really began to look at him as a man from beginnings as humble as mine with an equal amount of struggle strife to that of most Americans. I started to see him as someone who had indeed walked a mile in our shoes and could with compassion and empathy begin to rebuild our country with our support.
I now see him as a charismatic and inspiring leader who I hope will fill the very big shoes that i have imagined he will. He has inspired me. He has renewed my faith in my country not just because of his character but in one regard because of the color of his skin. That America elected by a landslide an African-American candidate is profound. It is the first time I have witnessed this country moving forward toward progress in a very long time.
I am sure that there are many people who thought they would not live to see such a day come. One such person is my friend Gary Avnet. Gary began his foray into civil rights activism on public record in the 60's but his story begins long before.
Gary was born to Jewish parents who were both first generation in this country. Their parents had passed through Ellis island.
He grew up in New York in a mixed heritage neighborhood where for the most part everyone got along. There was no bigotry and all the neighborhood's diverse children played together and grew up together.
When he was 8 years old he went to visit a childhood friend of his mother's in New Fork VA. Here he got his first taste of racism. He had to use the men's room and just as he proceeded to enter the door marked with a male placard he was seized by a man who said " Hey boy you can't go in there this bathroom is for Niggers, you go to the white men's bathroom." Gary had no clue what the man was referring to having never heard such a word before but did as he was told.
Gary eventually attended high school in the city and sat voluntarily next to the sole african-american boy in his math class not realizing until much later that people in the north in the 60's just hid their racism under sugar cookie smiles.
After graduating in 1963 he was to attend Columbia University's school of pharmacy on national scholarship in the fall. Gary had gone to visit family in California for the summer and in middle August 1963 when he flew home to prepare for the fall semester at school he reconnected with old friends. They had started to discuss going to Washington DC to participate in protests there and show solidarity to blacks in the south.
It was the time of Bull Conner. There was lynching and people being attacked by dogs for something as simple as wanting to eat at a lunch table. The nightly news was heavy with the stories of violence and hatred toward African -Americans. So in late August Gary and his friends met in the village and boarded the buses that would carry them to the Capital!
As they drove they began to spot picket signs protesting their journey. They were told there were enough state troopers to protect the buses but they were pelted with rocks repeatedly and one window was broken by a bullet.
When they arrived everyone scattered blacks and whites mixed and united and began to move as one unit with a common goal. "It was a great feeling" Gary says now when reflecting on the day!
When he and his friends arrived the speeches were just starting and he inched as close to the Lincoln Monument as he could get. When he could go no further Gary recalls that he "was too short to see and I found a tree and asked someone to give me a boost so I could climb to a better vantage point". He was about 150 feet from the podium. The sweltering heat took hold and many people fainted making him grateful for his seat above the crowd.
Harry Belafonte, and Adam Clayton Powell spoke and Gary intently listened as the moment approached for Dr. King to speak. Gary like all the others sat speechless and enrapt as one of the greatest Civil rights leaders in history imparted wisdom and words of hope and inspiration. "I witnessed and unprecedented spectacle" Avnet says today.
After the speeches when the crowd began to disperse Gary decided to cool off in the reflection pool. He and his group had a prearranged meeting time to be back at their bus. They all made it and took the long ride home. He recalls returning at approximately midnight and going to a local bar to reflect on the events of their day and they were hopeful that it would have an impact.
A short time later he would find that Dr King, the charismatic and sincere leader of the movement Gary had dedicated himself to had been shot down way before his time. It was a devasting blow to both he and all the other pepople who had believed in Dr King's dream of progress for our nation.
In the wake of this two Jewish kids who were acquaintances of Gary's were killed in Mississippi while there to protest. Gary himself had been part of a similar protest in the south. These were rare for Jewish kids due to the risk this often put them in with the often equally anti-Semitic racists. It became another event that stripped him of his idealistic goals to help rid our country of racial injustice.
Gary went on to Columbia and joined both the SDS or Students for a Democratic Society and the SNC aka Student non-violent Coordinating Committee . Both organizations were formed because many students were frustrated with the University administration's policies regarding civil rights protests.
While attending a demonstration at the presidents office Avnet recalls "things got out of hand" between law enforcement and the protesters. He spent the night in custody and has carried an arrest record since that night. He graduated June 5th, 1968 and after attended a party with his girlfriend returned home to find that his candidate,the late Bobby Kennedy, had been shot to death. This was a crushing blow to his reserve and started a long road fraught with disappointment with regard to our nation's progress and his efforts to help the country move forward.
This current election has been the most significant one of Gary Avnet's life for many reasons but first and foremost it is because he has lived to see his efforts bring the progress we are now experienceing and will hope fully continue. He has gotten back the abilty to use the word hope with regard to the state of out country and our lives as Americans.
I asked him how he felt and I thought it would be best to allow him to express it in his own vernacular. The following is his answer.
I have watched with horror the two previous elections and how they
were stolen by the Bushes... How the people of this country were lied
too , to bring on that horrible war....
So as this election cycle started and there was no incumbent running.
I watched the debates...My first pick for democratic runner for president
was Joe Biden.. After that everyone was the same......
I started to learn a little more about Obama, I was just interested
in how he carried himself... I started reading up on his background
and I guess when the Iowa caucusses were present.. I really took a
deep look into this man.. I did not want Hillary Clinton for many reasons
but, the thought of the First lady president vs the First Black President was
so intriguing to me.... I have been a member of Emily's list for so many
years, so I felt a strong compassion on the women side....
I do not know what day it was, but I started to recollect to my past
and as my closest person in my life was starting to fail and finally left
me, I became more passionate about the upcoming election and'
the implication of what would be good for America...
We needed a president for all the people and did what he said.
Was not afraid to talk to his enemies and Be all inclusive
So I donated money to different states that would be the pivotal points in
the election for Obama... The day I voted here, I worked a phone
bank for PA and Ohio to get out the vote....
To say the least, I feel this country has so many problems and needs
a good quality President... When you look at his history, family, kids
It brought me back to the Heady days of the 1960s with JFK...
I am proud to be an American again and feel that tyrany has lifted.
We as a country have a long road to HO, till we can be sure of our
way of life.. I believe he will be the man that can lead us out of the
God Bless America
P.S Its very hard to see him as black in reference because this country has
come a long way.. when you look at Obama... He is the American Dream .
On the eve of his inauguration I have to say that I agree with Gary. President Elect Barack Obama is the American Dream and he is definitely my dream for the future of my country and my own progress as an American. So good luck Mr. President and thank you...
Just my 2 cents