I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I am here because of Ashley

At the end of his famous race speech, Obama tells the story of Ashley Baia.

“She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat…

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, ‘I am here because of Ashley.’.”

Now, I generally don’t go in for real people anecdotes, because they’re usually just cheap applause lines. But I like that story because it gets at something that I think is really important and, like a lot of crucial observations, really hard to put into words.

There’s a couple of things at work here. Obviously he was after the juxtaposition of the elder Black man, who is supposed to have a monopoly on grievance, on history, on moral authority, taking inspiration from or feeling solidarity with the young White woman. But I also took away from it support for my own cherished belief that folks might come for the ideology but they stay for the people -- a person. And it’s not always or often the leader.

In my life, I allow myself to become responsible for and to many groups of people. I say it’s for my kids, my family, but there is the perverse result that I am persistently called away from home and family in order to participate in these groups. And my willingness to put into those groups is directly proportional with the personal connection I feel to the other people there.

In the end, I show up for them.

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