Calling To Service

In his speech on Tuesday night after winning the election President-elect Barack Obama spoke about the need for sacrifice and called us to serve our country.Vodpod videos no longer available.

On a side note, as much as I loved hearing that message I am afraid that we are relying on the office of the President to push us into vounteerism, when there are plenty of great organizations that make it easy to volunteer. Like many volunteer centers throughout the country, the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center (where I live) provides a website and other services to make volunteering for an organization that fits your areas of interest really easy. Even so, hearing these words from the top elected official in our nation made me feel very hopeful. And here is why.

In the days following the election I heard Tavis Smiley speak about the attention mandate. The amount of people paying attention to this election was huge, no matter what political party you belong to. Smiley’s point was that Obama’s mandate was to do something with that attention. Also during the last few days Bill Moyer’s spoke about his experience in the LBJ White House when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He talked about how our democracy has been fundamentally broken by lobbyists, interest groups, and I think most importantly a lack of trust in not only the process but the people as well.

The other day I blogged about how the attention that people were paying to this this election made me feel proud and patriotic. With the economic crisis we have an opportunity that was squandered after 9/11. After 9/11 we were asked to serve our country by going shopping.

So about now you are probably asking how do these random thoughts fit together – calling us to serve, the attention mandate, a broken democracy, the economic crisis. In calling us to service to our country Obama is I think providing an answer to how we can mend our democracy as well as fix our economic crisis. By taking all of the people who are still paying close attention to every step our new President-elect takes and calling them to volunteer, and get involved in government, Obama is asking for our help. I believe that a large part of why our democracy is broken, the lack of trust, has stemmed from people feeling like they have not been heard, from a disconnection between what we do in our everyday lives and what happens in Washington. By bringing us back into participating in civic life we can feel more a part of government, we can feel a greater sense of ownership in our community and our government.

By asking us to go shopping after 9/11 President Bush played to a much lower aspect of our society – mass consumption. As a consumer society we have turned to buying things in times of crisis. Mass consumption has created its own set of problems, destruction of the environment and the tendency to ignore social problems such as poverty and hunger. While the economic crisis has been really hard for a lot of people, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that, maybe in some ways it can be a good thing. In trying to fix the problem we can turn away from a consumer-driven society, band together to provide answers to societal problems, and build trust in our democracy.

Forgetting vs Remembering – How to Heal A Nation

I think my political hangover is about come to an end. I still can’t help talking nonstop about the election, but it is getting to be less and less. I have wept for joy and relief, laughed, gotten sad about the hatred, bigotry, racism, and homophobia that still exist, but mostly just marveled at the enormity of it. Now it is time for me to put some thoughts down about what all of this has meant to me.

I was born in the late ’60s. For me the world has been tinted by national events that for the most part have been negative – obviously there have been good times and great times, but I am talking about those singular moments when you say “I remember where I was when…” I remember where I was when I heard that we had invaded Iraq the first and second time, where I was when hostage were taken during the Olympics, and of course where I was when I heard about 9/11. The only exception I can think of is the Berlin Wall which was an amazing thing, but to me it was fairly remote and to put it mildly hasn’t effected my life like the other events. Ah yes, another one just came to mind – when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. But, this election is one of the few times where I can say “I remember where I was…” to something that is so powerful and positive that it almost eclipses all else. And more importantly to me my daughter will be able to say it to her grandchildren.

In listening to all the conversations on the radio on race and what this election has meant to black Americans it seems that older generations are still more skeptical about how far we have come in turning the corner. And it is here where I think that forgetting vs remembering enters into the dialog about how we as a nation react to certain events. I have to digress a bit. My boss has been educating me about how the French people are still bitter about losing to the Romans low these many thousands of years later. This has colored their national temperament and made them more pessimistic. I will leave it up to him to comment on the French (he is French after all and I am not). But it has been often pointed out that America is a nation of amnesiacs when it comes to history and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But maybe those who remember history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe it is the very quality of our being able to forget history that has enabled us to move on.

Sure forgetting has brought about a range of problems with it; you could argue that a number of problems have been brought about by forgetting: from failing to honor promises to Native Americans to not using the lessons from the civil rights struggle in the ’60s to fight the civil rights issue of our time – same sex marriage. And maybe what I am talking about is forgiving rather than forgetting, but it seems like there is an element of both in each. Forgetting has, to a certain extent, allowed us to heal instead of dwell on the pain. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has a greater understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to see what role remembering and forgetting had to play in the healing of South Africa.

Whatever the case, we need to have a little bit of each – remembering and forgetting – in order to not repeat mistakes but not get stuck in a negative feedback loop either. And the understanding of that duality is what has really impressed me about Obama. Our president elect seems to really get the nuances of not just race, but a wide range of other issues such as personal responsibility vs. helping each other.

Hopefully tomorrow I can write some more about asking us to serve.