Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lost In the Historic Moment With a Bitter Asterisk (a personal reflection by Jon)


by Jon Dodson

My thoughts have been swimming this week, and several times I've teared up over nothing, or felt at a loss for words. This will not be the most graceful or organized blog post, but it's important to try to express what I'm feeling, so I'll just start writing.

It would seem the stars of posterity have aligned. After a long, dark nightmare where the vision and ideals we had for ourselves and our country were seeming more and more like Mother Goose, we're left stunned, pinching ourselves. This week, we began a new chapter in the romantic story of our country, in a way almost too poetic to be true. I'm not talking about Obama's pretty words, although they were, as usual, perfect for the occasion. I'm talking about the culmination of everything that has occurred in the past 5 months, the past 16 months, the past 4 years, 8 years, 40 years, and 400 years. As if everything that has come before us was purposefully timed for this moment. And despite the tedious length of the primary process, the moment snuck up on me.

A moment that comes at a time when our nation has never, ever faced such a mind-boggling array of vast, interrelated problems -- each capable of completely undermining life as we know it. A moment where our government and society are so dysfunctional that we seem incapable of addressing even the easiest of problems. And at a moment where many people worldwide had lost all faith in America and her ideals, someone was nominated whose words and apparent capacity to deliver are too good to be true. At the same time, we've somehow managed to take a vast, huge, people-powered step for our democracy. We have vindicated every democratic ideal I've ever held. Through Obama, we've proven that we can do politics without the special interests, without the beltway "knowledge" or methodology, without the lobbyist contributions, without going negative, without dishonesty, without fear, and without avoiding the tough questions or tough issues. These are problems that seemed to me insurmountable less than a year ago, notwithstanding my high hopes for Net-based democracy. And today's news from the DNC shows just how quickly the Democratic party establishment are following Obama's example, and just how quickly things can change for the better.

And of course, that's not even the most significant aspect of our moment.

I'm only 26. I barely remember the Reagan years, I certainly wasn't alive during the five-year span when America lost three of her greatest heroes, and I can't imagine what I'd do at the sight of a sign demarcating the "colored" rest room. So maybe I have no excuse, and maybe I'm just a sap, but I'm overwhelmed with emotion.

Never let it be said that people from my generation don't care, or don't understand, or don't pay attention, because many of us do. My parents grew up in the segregated South, and they instilled in me the values of the civil rights movement, which was reflected in our conversations, movies, TV, books, values, our politics, and, ultimately, my career. We were always the only white people to go to the only local church that acknowledged Martin Luther King Day, the black First Baptist Church.

The most formative moment of my childhood was in 1993, when my father brought me to the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington, an extremely hot and humid summer day, where I learned the words to "We Shall Overcome," the Negro National Anthem, and other freedom songs; where me and my dad waded in the reflecting pool, under the shadow of Abraham Lincoln, while we watched Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and so many others reflect on the import of that day. As me and my dad took the Metro back to Virginia, we listened to an older black man tell stories of his participation at the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. That night when we got to the hotel room, Dad told me to call my mom. I did and began excitedly telling her about everything I'd seen that day. She got choked up and began crying. In my innocence, I told her, "I'm sorry you missed it." She tried to explain that that wasn't why she was crying, but she just couldn't find the words.

It's worth noting that my parents could've never known how important and empowering those experiences would be for me as I grew older and came of age, a gay teenager in the heart of the Bible Belt.

And so, my heroes were always my parents' heroes. Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the last American hero, and the 2nd day since the coronation of the next. And how I've yearned to call my mom and share the moment with her. But I can't. She is basically incapable of appreciating this moment. Because she is one of the many women who feel deeply hurt and betrayed by the loss of Hillary. And there's nothing I can say or do. I can only try to understand the great hope and anticipation she felt at seeing a woman in charge -- another hope she's been waiting her entire life to see realized, a hope which she was told (by an irresponsible press and a recklessly cocky campaign) would be inevitably fulfilled in January, and a hope dashed, in her mind, because of the often sexist coverage of the media.

For all of the poetry and timing of this moment, how bittersweet that it has come at such a high cost, and I'm not talking about the general election. I don't care who my mom votes for, or whether she votes at all. I do care that she is hurting. I care that she apparently thinks I don't understand the depth of her pain and disappointment -- a disappointment so profound that she can't bring herself to celebrate with her son the epic turning of the page that she raised me to care about. What a bitter irony, that when I called her on Tuesday night, she didn't understand why I was crying.


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At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jon, thank you for the diary. I understand why you were crying. I cried Tuesday night when Obama's photo flashed on the screen and during his speech.

My son is 40. He was born in 1968, a very important year, one filled with tragedy. His white parents were active in the NAACP in northern PA in a segregated city, worked on fair housing issues, and marched when King was killed. After setting up and hiring staff for a relatively small Head Start program, the blacks whom I had employed indicated I was the largest black employer in the city. It was initially hard to believe, but it was the truth.

I am deeply sorry that your mother could not share your joy and your pride. I am a mother who understands.


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