Category Archives: Politics

Dragged Through the Door of an Obama Presidency

Some thoughts on a historic Obama win.

When Barack Obama came to my city of Asheville, NC to speak it saw something I don’t know that we’ve ever seen before. A local news anchor who never broadcasts remotely actually came out in person to cover a the rally.

This is a news reader who speaks to her city exclusively from the news desk, perfectly coiffed. But there she was in the fresh air and under the sparkling autumn sun, broadcasting remotely from Asheville High where Sen. Obama was speaking.

As I watched her begin the broadcast, she seemed hushed and humbled. I wondered why, why she was there, why she seemed so moved. And then I thought, Of course.

She’s a black woman covering the first major-party presidential candidacy of a black American for the office of the president. I bet she asked to come out for this one. I bet she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Colin Powell was right when he called the guy a transformational candidate. We walk through the door and we close it behind us and the simplicity of it is dazzling. That’s how it happens.

– Garrison Keillor

The simplicity is dazzling. A candidate thought he had what it takes, told his friends that if America wasn’t ready for a black candidate now, it wouldn’t be ready in his lifetime. And he ran. And he won.

I don’t claim to be the ambassador of one of the few groups who might have some inkling of how many black Americans feel right now, American women. But today I’m going to take that mantle up.

I am an American woman. Educated, unmarried, a feminist. A Democrat, partly-cloudy patriot, taxpayer and entrepreneur. In three generations the women of my family were transformed: My grandmother was a homemaker, my mother was a nurse, and I am a journalism student, freelance writer and poster-making intern for a multimillion-dollar science nonprofit.

And I know that behind me is a a line thousands of women long. It is composed of the women who came before me, who didn’t live as I live. Who didn’t get to wear their hair the way they want, wear the clothing they want, educate themselves as they want. Who didn’t have families in the way they want, didn’t participate in society the way they want, didn’t dream or live they way they wanted to.

A line of functionally enslaved persons who could not work outside the home, own property, vote or use birth control. Many were illiterate.

Some, like an older friend’s mother, were driven to mental illness by a forced focus placed solely on the home. My friend’s mother lived a Yellow Wallpaper life, dying of prescription drug addiction brought on by pure human misery and lack of fulfillment. Incompleteness.

It is for the women in this long, long line, stretching back as far as the telescope of history sees, that I glory in my life and the progress that made me not only able to read and write but educated, free, listened to, and allowed to accomplish as I am able, not as I am allowed.

Though the experience is different and I can never truly understand, from female America to black America I offer my most sincere congratulations for what happened in and to our nation Tuesday night.

This was not a contest but an evolution, a long moral arc tending towards justice in recognizing the excellence of the winning candidate, who happened to be a biracial, functionally black American.

I want a woman president. But it seems that unlike the people of Mongolia, Germany, England, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, Ecuador and Chile, I still have to wait. So as we who rejoice in this victory rejoice, let us not forget the hypocrisy of our current president-elect, who acknowledges the evil of the laws written against the love his parents shared, yet will not support the identical love shared between gay Americans because of his Christian faith.

This is hypocrisy. There is more change to wait for, even after the election of a candidate of the quality of Barack Obama.

I want to see a gay Filipina president. I want to see all kinds of presidents. I want my country to be the place where any kid really can grow up to be president. We say any kid can grow up to be president, but just like the framers talking about the inalienable rights of the people of the country they created out of the cloth of human reason, we’re still only talking about certain flavors of everybody.

I figure I still have 40 or 50 years in me. And I hope I get to see a woman president. Not just to see one, but to see America dragged through another door of social, cultural and mental revolution, to see living proof that my country is learning to cultivate, encourage and recognize excellence in whatever body it occurs in.

So black America, I think I know something, I think American women know something, about how you must feel at this great and historic time. Everybody – even and especially those dragged unwillingly through the door of an Obama presidency and all it represents – is that much closer to the ideals this country was founded on and two centuries later is still struggling to attain.

Barack Hussein Obama is a proud and appropriate name for the leader of a nation of immigrants and descendants of Africans to have. A biracial, well-traveled, global-citizen president is the right kind of leader for a mongrel nation to have.

I know now about the limited power of a president, the greater power of a party machine and other holders of local and national power, equally important, whom Americans forget in the rush to vote for the man in a suit they like best.  I don’t believe in the kind of hope you see in the commercials, of a troubled nation immediately transformed by a godlike Obama’s swift and just actions. No president can do what a commercial tries to make you think they can.

But the hope of a changed nation moving significantly closer at last towards Enlightenment ideas of offering inalienable rights to everyone, truly everyone, even the everyones who were left out as our nation was created by well-intentioned, brilliant, non-Christian, sexist, wealthy white men?

That is what makes my heart race. That is what gives me hope.

I’m so lucky to be alive now. For the long lines behind so many of us, for the doors of the future we know are next to open, I relish the joy and hope of this time.

President-elect Obama is less than 10 years older than me. The reins are being handed to a new generation.

Don’t be afraid. What one generation wants is always hard for an earlier one to understand. Sen. Obama’s grandmother could have told you that. I note that the transgressive match Madelyn Dunham’s daughter made produced an eloquent, intelligent, accomplished young man who grew up to become the president of the United States.

The torch passes and new leaders take the stage. And we do all right, even when we leave old ways behind. Sometimes especially then.

It’s time to change.

It’s always time to change.

Gordon’s Excellent Buncombe/Asheville/NC Voting Guide

(Image snagged from Aric)

Looks like this is a new tradition from Asheville’s most outstanding liberal political blogger.

Here’s a great voting guide to help guide your choices as you vote in the coming election. Don’t forget the slate includes not only prez and VP, but a whole backside of nonpartisan offices like commissioner of labor, superintendent of education and soil and water conservation district supervisor…

Scrutiny Hooligans Voter Guide

I’m Jennifer Saylor and I approved this voter guide because it is totally awesome.

POLS 281: International Relations (A Synopsis)

You will be introduced to your own political ignorance. You won’t be made to feel ashamed or deficient, but you will realize that despite following the media and voting in elections, you know as much about global politics as you do about woodworking, or any other complex endeavor to which you have devoted no real study at all.

You will be introduced to a series of convincing and contradicting worldviews. They will all make sense to you. You might realize your own political views, which you previously found justified, examined and readily defensible, have been largely dictated by the class and nation you find yourself in.

You will realize that being asked your political identity and responding “left-leaning liberal” is a bit like being asked where you are from and replying, “Earth.”

You will realize, in your last days of class, that if you really want to know anything at all about what is going on and your place in it all, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia

NYT coverage of the Iranian president’s visit to Columbia University. Avoid annoying NYT required login by clicking here for a temporary password:

Ahmadinejad, at Columbia, Parries and Puzzles

He said that there were no homosexuals in Iran — not one — and that the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews should not be treated as fact, but theory, and therefore open to debate and more research.

Editorial: Mr. Ahmadinejad Speaks

There are many reasons we find Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies and pronouncements loathsome. High on that list are his denial of the Holocaust, his call to wipe Israel off the map and his country’s sponsorship of terrorism. Equally loathsome is Iran’s denial of basic civil rights to its citizens, including the right of free speech.

So we are dismayed by the behavior of some of New York’s democratically elected representatives who denounced and threatened Columbia University for inviting the Iranian leader to speak there yesterday. We can imagine no better way to give hope to opponents of Iran’s repressive state than by showcasing America’s democracy and commitment to free speech. And we can imagine no better way to lay bare the bankruptcy of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s views than to have him speak, and be questioned, at a university forum.

Here’s a Dec. 2006 Time magazine interview with him.

Dateline Asheville: Partisan Election Controversy

Skip this post if you don’t live in Asheville, where our city is seeing a tremendous grassroots reaction to our city council’s recent decision to make municipal elections partisan. For the first time in 12 years, Ashevilleans will soon vote a city ticket in which candidates must declare a political affiliation.

I was surprised to note the loud and rowdy local response, with people seemingly coming out of the woodwork to oppose the move. At a visit to the local farmer’s market near my house, I was asked to sign a petition against the move to partisan elections. I told the woman with the clipboard that I had to educate myself on the change first before I signed anything.

Well, now I’ve thought about the issue, read about it and asked questions. And frankly, I couldn’t care less about it. I merely find myself disappointed that the issue that galvanizes so many fellow Ashevilleans isn’t something more meaningful. Our city is threatened by overdevelopment, with luxury high-rises slated to appear all over as working-class people are priced out of their own neighborhoods and available affordable housing dwindles. Already no one who works downtown can afford to live there, and gentrification is rampant. New downtown construction is never affordable housing or even hip retail space; it’s high-rise hotels and million-dollar condos.

Atlanta and parts of South Florida are already casualties of overdevelopment and gentrification. Our city faces the same fate, as well as the looming threat of our 400-million-year old mountains being randomly shaved bare of trees and dotted with 10-bedroom trophy mansions. That’ll sure improve the view, and can only enhance the joy and wonder I feel when I look around at the still-wild and beautiful part of the world that has nurtured my spirit for nearly 30 years. Look around you, those who share this amazing city with me. Unethical developers will have their way with us and our mountains if we don’t speak out. Me, when I look to the mountains, I want to see mountains. Who else has the power to stop overdevelopment in Asheville but the people of Asheville?

So far, this seems to me to be a classic instance of speak up or suffer the consequences, which for Asheville will be a substantial loss of scenic beauty, increased pollution, increased traffic, a compromised downtown skyline showing brand-new buildings rather than ancient mountains, higher property taxes and a downtown slowly losing its one-of-a-kind Asheville funkiness to big hotels, pricey restaurants and condos that lie owned but empty, waiting for their wealthy residents to spare a weekend away from their main residence.

I don’t hate wealthy people. I just hate my city being compromised to line the pockets and pander to the interests of those who do not hold its unique charm as dear as I do. And I will hate a downtown that caters far more to the wealthy than to the working-class majority.

My lesson from the partisan-elections issue is that there are better things for me to spend my time on.

Erm, the whole point of this post was supposed to be to point y’all to the excellent local political blog Scrutiny Hooligans, which has a typically fine summation of the partisan-election brouhaha. Read it here: Partisan Election Controversy — Long on Rhetoric, Short on Facts

And join the anti-development group PARC (People Advocating Real Conservancy) here, and get on the email list of (development watchdog group) the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods here.

How to Write About Africa

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this Granta article since I read it:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

In a related article, this post from the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) blog talks about “development porn”: manipulative images of the developing world that conform to oversimplified first-world beliefs about third-world countries and may not necessarily depict the natural state of the people and places photographed.

Haitian girls pose for a Haitian-American woman:


Haitian girls pose for a white American man:


BTW I recently started reading the Global Voices aggregate blog, an international blog portal that translates and publishes sociopolitical blog posts from all over the world. I find that it helps me to cultivate a more international perspective, one that lacks first-world filters and comes straight from bloggers from all over.

In many ways I’ll take blognews over mainstream news, because I find that bloggers have faster, less fettered access to information. For example, when destructive floods hit my town a few years back, the first really good images I saw of the devastation were taken by the friend of a friend and sent to me in an email. I watched the same level of swiftness of response and depth of coverage emerge after the 2004 Asian Tsunami when South/Southeast Asian bloggers, not mainstream news organizations, offered the best and swiftest coverage of the destruction.

And those closest to an event are, I think, those most and best aware of all the complexities surrounding an event.

More and more I wonder if people can’t be divided into to two groups: those who are aware of the complexity of situations and those who see only the surface of things. Which is in itself a reductionist way to see the world, but still a guideline for me when deciding whom to trust.

Do You Believe in Evolution?

Here’s a YouTube clip of a GOP presidential candidate debate in which three candidates answer that they do not:

Much more worth reading here from the excellent Cosmic Variance.

Denial of the standard scientific explanation for the origin of human beings is a particularly dangerous kind of mistake: one based on a decision to put aside evidence and deduction in favor of wishful thinking, and an insistence on a picture of the universe that flatters ourselves. The kind of reasoning that leads one to conclude that we can’t explain human evolution without invoking a meddlesome God is the same kind of reasoning that makes people think that cutting taxes will decrease the federal deficit, or that the people of Iraq would throw candy and greet us as liberators. (I’m sure that liberals are just as susceptible to such a fallacy, but it’s the conservative versions that are currently getting us in such a mess.) It’s a refusal to take reality at face value, in favor of a picture that conforms to what we want to be true.