The post-election political cartoons have been hilarious, poignant, inspiring, and some have been downright scary. But, as Abraham Lincoln said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”.
On election night, Democracy Now! interviewed one of my favorite people, Dr. Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding was a close friend and colleague of Dr. King.
I’ve interviewed Vincent a few times. But, in 2006, I interviewed him about his writing Dr. King’s major antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” the speech that Dr. King gave a year to the day before he was assassinated. The speech was given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. I consider this one of my most important interviews and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. You can read that interview here.
Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Harding’s comments to Democracy Now! on election night:
DR. VINCENT HARDING: I am much more deeply involved in the hopes for what we can do to help push him into the place that he needs to go. He is taking a good start at this point by winning this magnificent election, but he is not going to be out there as a messiah by himself. We who believe in freedom are going to have to stand around him, stand beneath him, stand in back of him, and do everything that we can to keep reminding him that what we need is to move towards the very thing that he’s been talking about: creating a more perfect union, creating a more just and peaceable society, creating a more democratic society. So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that’s been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages? …
For me, that question about the contradictions that would stand between seeing Barack as a second coming of Martin and seeing Martin as someone who clearly understood that militarism was not the way towards a solution of humanity’s problems. That’s why I said that those of us who believe in creating a more perfect union can only do it by standing around him, under him, behind him, pushing him to ask questions about what is the role of the military in a democratic society, by encouraging him to see the possibility that maybe he would be a better community-organizer-in-chief than commander-in-chief. Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders.
Pulitzer-prize winning poet Phil Levine has lived and taught for much of his life in Fresno, California, in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Growing up in Sacramento, that valley is a place I know and love. In fact, the title of my critical thesis for my MFA in poetry was “Writing in Gold Dust” on California poetry.
Enjoy Levine’s beautiful poem about the Central valley published in the November issue of Poetry magazine.
We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.
You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.
You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.
Apparently, the post Midnight at the Lincoln Memorial is getting lots of traffic and comments!
One person said:
I have been in high spirits since Obama’s win. Watching the returns I cried, yelled, laughed, and went a bit nuts. Hope is such an amazing thing. I was at the March on Washington in 1963. I had come over from France during the summer and was staying with my grandmother in Lansdowne, PA. Took a bus to Washington and slept in a hostel with a ton of other folks. It was amazing. I was also 19 and weighed about 120 pounds.
I’ve asked a few folks to write up their reflections about election night. So send me a comment: Where were you on election night? What feeling or image stands out the most?.
A few days ago, I wrote about veteran photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn who shot photos on election night when a few of us gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
Matt wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience huddled with us there on the steps. One of Matt’s photos was printed in The New York Times and is garnering much attention. It’s on the verge of becoming one of those “iconic” images and he’s been blogging about it at his site The Dark Slide where you can buy a commemorative print.
I contacted Matt to ask about any other photos he might have from that night and he was so generous as to give me one that includes some close up shots of faces. Thanks, Matt!.
I caught indy journalist and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman at D.C.’s Green Festival yesterday. She reminded the still-deliriously happy crowd that the work of rebuilding democracy is just beginning.
Calling Obama our new “Organizer-in-Chief,” Goodman said the election was won by a combination of community organizing and unprecedented fund raising. But the jury’s still out, she said, on the lessons learned.
The answer is in who gets listened to in the new administration. Will it be the big dollar donors who find an ear? Or will it be a new day for community organizations and the people they represent?
Goodman made the point that Obama will need organizers pushing from the outside – both in times when community leaders genuinely disagree with him, but also for the added power it gives the president when he knows millions are ready to take him to task should he wander astray.
And to prove her point, Goodman lifted up two women as models for the kind of leadership that we now need:
Mamie Till. The mother of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched during a summer vacation to in Mississippi in 1955, Mamie Till made the strategic choice for an open casket at Emmett’s funeral. Because of a mother’s courage, photos in newspapers around the world showed the brutality of racism.
Our new Organizer-in-Chief needs a few “first-class troublemakers” like Rosa Parks and Mamie Till to lead from the grassroots. Tuesday’s victory was huge and necessary, but this campaign was won, not solely by Barack Obama, but by an electrified citizenry committed to change. To move this from a historic “moment” to a historic “era” will take ongoing commitment by that same citizenry..
His newest book is Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (as opposed to “cradle to grave”), which outlines his basic design production concept. Besides, the book’s made from synthetic ‘paper’ that can be recycled. No trees were harmed in the making of this book.
Design is the first signal of human intention. … Our goal is a delightfully divine, safe, healthy, socially just world with clean air, water, soil, and power, that can be economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed.
McDonough’s developed concepts like roof farming in urban China, television leasing to avoid the landfill in Europe, and fabric that’s strong enough for public use and safe enough to eat.
On election night when a few of us gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to ring in a new era in America, there was a professional photographer who stopped by. It turns out he was veteran photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn — the guy who covered the invasion of Panama, the White House, and the Rodney King uprising for UPI.
Matt wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience huddled with us on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just past midnight as Barack Obama was giving his victory address:
I’d spent most of election night in front of the TV in Arlington, Va. But around 11 p.m. I couldn’t sit idle any longer, which is why I sped to the memorial. When I arrived, I found a TV crew sitting on the plaza above the Reflecting Pool, waiting, I assumed, for a mob to arrive. I approached with cameras in hand. One of them looked up and said with a slight roll of his eyes, “Nothing to see here.”
And so I climbed the memorial steps and came upon that small group listening to the radio. (What is it about people gathered around a transistor radio?) Surely there was someone else around — a videographer, a print reporter. But there wasn’t. I felt for the TV guy. The crowd standing in the shadow of Lincoln had the scoop, a profound event to themselves, of the people and by the people.
Matt’s photo was printed in The New York Times and is garnering much attention. He’s blogging about it at his site The Dark Slide. And you can also buy a commemorative print from him!
P.S. – If you look on a higher resolution version of this photo, you will see the top of my head by travelling the line straight down from Lincoln’s right index finger!.
The Tablet, the leading Catholic newspaper in the U.K., ran an interesting bit of analysis by David Gibson on Obama’s election:
Obama’s election is another important step towards what the Founding Fathers – all white men, many of them slaveowners – called “a more perfect union”. As Obama said in his speech on election day, “This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.”
And that is where the path once again grows steep. Now the prophetic rhetoric gives way to the cold reality of a country that cannot afford a New Deal or a Great Society. But the challenges facing America are, historians say, every bit as grave as those that faced Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression, and the desire for fundamental change – Obama’s campaign mantra – as strong as that which coursed through America in the 1960s.
Additionally, the Pew Forum on Religion and Politics report How the Faithful Voted (5 Nov. 2008) said this about the Catholic vote:
Catholics, too, moved noticeably in a Democratic direction in 2008; overall, Catholics supported Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin (54% vs. 45%). By contrast, four years ago, Catholics favored Republican incumbent George W. Bush over Kerry by a five-point margin (52% to 47%).
Though precise figures are not available, early exit poll data suggests that Obama performed particularly well among Latino Catholics. Overall, the national exit poll shows that two-thirds of Latinos voted for Obama over McCain, a 13-point Democratic gain over estimates from the 2004 national exit poll. Meanwhile, Obama’s four-point gain among white Catholics (compared with their vote for Kerry) is smaller than the gain seen among Catholics overall. In fact, as in 2004, white Catholics once again favored the Republican candidate, though by a much smaller margin (13-point Republican advantage in 2004 vs. five-point advantage in 2008).
Another historic “first” that hasn’t been too highlighted in the news is that Obama’s victory brings with it Joe Biden as the first Catholic vice president of the United States. Biden is a good representative of most American Catholics. He loves his church. He respects its traditions. He listens carefully to its teachings and to the bishops who are its shepherds. He tries his best to live out his faith in the midst of the world. He forms his own conscience. He tries to act with mercy. He also demands that bishops provide real pastoral answers to contemporary issues, not simply archaic legalism. Sometimes this puts him into creative dissent with some aspects of the Catholic hierarchy.
Oh well. That’s like most of us. We say our prayers and get up the next morning and try to follow Jesus.
I pray that there will be an American bishop who is strong enough and secure enough to engage Joe Biden in an authentic, intellectual, compassionate, public dialogue on the role of the church and the state, the way scripture shapes and guides our values, the centrality of respect for human life and dignity, the role of forgiveness in public life, the way churches and governments can participate in God’s loving vision for the world beyond denominations, creeds, or nationalism. But this needs to be a bishop who respects Biden and his role, not one who is trying to punish him, humiliate him, or use him as a foil for what’s wrong with “liberalism.”.