TURBULENT TIMES AND EMOTIONS
Over the past week, many of us have walked through some turbulent times and dealt with turbulent emotions. Many people are worried, fearful, depressed. Others find themselves mistrusting, despairing, experiencing incredulity. They are not alone. Many of us have been there with them. But these were not the feelings I had anticipated experiencing.
Growing up, I was a dreamer, literally. I dreamed about books and their characters, school, friends, fantasies, and even nightmares. As I grew into my teens, I even dreamed of politics and campaigns.
I dreamed dreams
JOHN F. KENNEDY (1961)
My political dreams began with my first participation in a presidential campaign. I was 15 years old and campaigning for John F. Kennedy in the 1961 race. Too young to cast a vote, my parents gave me their blessing to volunteer for the local JFK office.
To my delight, JFK won. I felt certain I had something to do with his success in that race. Standing on street corners and in shopping malls was important work. I knew handing out fliers and brochures surely won the race!
JFK’s inaugural speech brought tears to my eyes. His words so powerful, so meaningful:
My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
My heart thrilled each time I heard him speak or read something about his dreams for America. Among a long list of accomplishments in his too short presidency included:
- Socio-economic improvements in housing, welfare, and food programs for the poverty-stricken;
- Broadening Social Security benefits for the elderly of our nation;
- Formation of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities; and
- Strides in closing the racial divide in our country.
JFK made a difference in America. No doubt about it in my opinion.
Then came November 1963. John F. Kennedy died with a bullet shot from the gun of an assassin. My dreams for our first Catholic president ended with shattering results. I remember darkness enveloping me as I heard our school principal announce the startling news. And the darkness didn’t lift for days. I watched as a stunned wife and mother stood by her husband’s casket. No expression in her face. Stoic and courageous. As a young woman, this was a new dream–to be stoic and courageous in all I attempted.
BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA II
The 2008 Election
Fast forward to the 2008 election. Barack Hussein Obama, II, was a rising star after a powerful keynote speech given at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Obvious leadership characteristics included intelligence, expertise in Constitutional law, and eloquent speaker.
One of my dreams growing up in the racist South was to see an African-American hold the highest office in the land. This didn’t happen until after I moved to more liberal Portland, OR. I wanted to see the stereotypical image of these people negated forever. Mr. Obama represented the man who could do this in my dreams. He exhibited honesty, compassion, and love toward all people. What more could we ask for?
Life wasn’t healthy for me during this election so I didn’t have the privilege of campaigning for Mr. Obama. But I was a proud supporter from the family room where our TV lives. Life wasn’t easy for the Obama campaign either. His birth came into question. His Christian beliefs came under scrutiny. The color of his skin became a question on the lips of many. We’d never had an African-American in the Oval Office. How would it work?
During his inaugural speech, President Obama shared these words:
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
President Obama saw us as we are and should be: a whole made up of many parts. The divisions among us have been of our own making. The wealthy rise to the top. Those with lesser wealth huddle somewhere in the middle. The poor struggle obscurely in whatever workplace they can find. Yet, President Obama gave credit to all, including the least among us, for America’s rise to greatness.
Richard Blanco appeared as the fifth inaugural poet at the 2009 inaugural ceremony. Blanco is the first Latino, first openly gay-identified person, and youngest person to serve as an inaugural poet. Listen as Blanco presents his poem written for this occasion, One Today. I felt that Blanco’s poem spoke for each American, emphasizing we are one, making up that whole President Obama would mention in his speech.
The 2012 Election
His first term worked well, and President Obama was re-elected in 2012 to a second term. War wasn’t kind to President Obama, but it was a problem inherited with his first term. Veterans began to speak out of unfairness in health care when they returned home. Their families weren’t cared for as well as expected. Then there were the ominous images from the situation room during the Benghazi attack. It appeared these cracks in the walls of this administration would be troublesome.
As these years sped by I felt we were still moving forward in hope. Moving toward a time when our country would be more united than ever before. I hoped for a time when every man, woman and child, regardless of skin color, religion, lifestyle, education, employment, ethnicity would be equal under the American flag.
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION (2016)
The election of 2016 disappointed me. You see I had a dream for this contest as well. A dream that a woman would break the glass ceiling and take the seat in the Oval Office, one never occupied by a woman.
On November 8, 2016, as I listened to the election results, the dark curtain of doom began to settle around me. It wasn’t going to be, was it? No, it wasn’t.
I don’t remember shedding tears over a lost election before. I probably wouldn’t have. But the winner here has some disturbing characteristics and behaviors. He associates with people who hold beliefs adverse to mine. A thread of racism and exclusivity ran through much of his rhetoric during his campaign and still does even now.
The days following November 8th reminded me of the days post-September 11, 2001. Feelings of disbelief, incredulity, mistrust, dubiety, and skepticism hung over my head. My heart ached.
Then the riots began in my hometown as well as many other cities across the nation. In Portland, a newly formed activist group, Portland’s Resistance, organized the protest. Their intent was a peaceful protest. Anarchists preyed on the peaceful protesters turning the it into a riot. In all, the police arrested 71 persons, most of whom live out-of-state.
The actions of the rioters did not make many of us here in Portland happy. The activist group did not cause any of the damages reported. Yet they stepped up to raise the funds to pay for the damages. Anytime there is a protest the anarchists come out and take advantage, but they never take responsibility.
I understand why the people gathered to protest. That’s how I felt too. I wanted to protest in some way. I knew there were people hurting and afraid as the news rolled out. Who wouldn’t be afraid having heard the promises from the campaign trail? Who wouldn’t have cause for concern with what our new president-elect planned for America?
BUT WHAT CAN I DO?
There are many ways to show our displeasure and in the process give help to others. Many ways of helping appear online through social media, blogs, news articles, and more. A few suggestions have included wearing a safety-pin to show your solidarity with the fearful, the pin indicating to the marginalized you are a safe person. Others have shared the best ways to connect with your representatives in Washington. Attending town hall meetings in your area. Become involved as a volunteer. Sign a petition. Don’t just accept everything as normal until it unravels, and there’s nothing we can do.
In the second part of this post, I will list specific ways writers can bring hope to our country today. Will you join me and make a difference?
COME BACK TO READ PART II, AND LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT WE CAN DO IN OUR COMMUNITIES. ABOUT WHAT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR SOMEONE ELSE. ABOUT MAKING AMERICA BETTER.