An Appeal to Barack Obama - Page 3

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I think these all these underlying narratives, of blacks, women, white southerners and la raza - excuse me, Hispanic-Americans - are far more moving, engaging and electorally-important than the dry details of policy.

What I cannot understand is your apparent attempt to sever, or at least distance yourself, from the Sixties generation, though we remain your single greatest supporting constituency. I can understand, I suppose, your need to define yourself as a American rather than a black American, as if some people need to be reassured over and over. I don't know if those people will vote for you.

You were ten years old when the Sixties ended, so it is the formative story of your childhood. The polarizations that you want to transcend today began with life-and-death issues that were imposed on us. No one chose to be "extreme" or "militant" as a lifestyle preference. It was an extreme situation that produced us. On one side were armed segregationists, on the other peaceful black youth. On one side were the destroyers of Vietnam, on the other were those who refused to
submit to orders. On the one side were those keeping women in inferior roles, on the other were those demanding an equal rights amendment. On one side were those injecting chemical poisons into our rivers, soils, air and blood streams, on the other were the defenders of the natural world. On one side were the perpetrators of big money politics, on the other were keepers of the plain democratic tradition. Does anyonebelieve those conflicts are behind us?

I can understand, in my old age, someone wanting to dissociate from the extremes to which some of us were driven by the times. That seems to be the ticket to legitimacy in the theater of the media and cultural gatekeepers. I went through a similar process in 1982 when I ran for the legislature, reassuring voters that I wasn't "the angry young man that I used to be." I won the election, and then the Republicans objected to my being seated anyway! Holding the idea that the opposites of the Sixties were equally extreme or morally equivalent is to risk denying where you came from and what made your opportunities possible. You surely understand that you are one of the finest descendants of the whole Sixties generation, not some hybrid formed by the clashing opposites of that time. We want to be proud of the role we may have played in all you have become, and not be considered baggage to be discarded on your ascent. You recognize this primal truth when you stand on the bridge in Selma, Alabama, basking in the glory of those who were there when you were three years old. But you can't have it both ways, revering the Selma march while trying to "turn the page" on the past.

This brings me back to why you want to stand in the presumed center against the "Tom Hayden Democrats." Are you are equally distant from the "George McGovern Democrats.", and the "Jesse Jackson Democrats"? How about the "Martin Luther King Democrats", the "Cesar Chavez Democrats", the "Gloria Steinem Democrats"? Where does it end?

What about the "Bobby Kennedy Democrats"? I sat listening to you last year at an RFK human rights event in our capital. I was sitting behind Ethel Kennedy and several of her children, all of whom take more progressive stands than anyone currently leading the national Democratic Party. They were applauding you, supporting your candidacy, and trying to persuade me that you were not just another charismatic candidate but the one we have been waiting for.

Will you live up to the standard set by Bobby Kennedy in 1968? He who sat with Cesar Chavez at the breaking of the fast, he who enlisted civil rights and women activists in his crusade, who questioned the Gross National Product as immoral, who dialogued with people like myself about ending the war and poverty?

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