Mendelsohn’s Photo at the Lincoln Memorial

"Lincoln Memorial, 12:15 a.m., 11/5/08" by Matt Mendelsohn

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!.

Catholics and Obama

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).

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Biden: First Catholic Vice President

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.”.

Moneygall: The Ancestral Home of O’Bama

I wrote earlier about The Photo Not Taken as I sped through Moneygall, Ireland, birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather a few days before the historic U.S. elections.

What do you know? Canon Stephen Neill, Anglican priest in the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe who blogs at Paddy Anglican, sent me the photo that I missed!

Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
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Midnight at the Lincoln Memorial

The only word that comes to mind is “magical.” After watching the early election returns with friends and observing a hushed moment of unbelieving silence at 10 p.m. when ABC called the election for Barack Obama, I did what has been in the back of my mind to do since Obama got the nomination. I drove through town to the Lincoln Memorial, parked my car illegally, and walked through the quiet grove to the great wide marble steps of that monument.

There were three or four other people there and a few security guards. It was misting. The steps were wet and slick. The guards were chatting among themselves and listening on their walkie-talkies to their compatriots guarding the White House where the “real action” was. (Apparently, about 2000 people gathered in Lafayette Park.)

I walked up to the foot of that massive statue of Abraham Lincoln. The words of the Gettysburg Address are carved along the walls. In his speech Lincoln reminds those standing in that muddy Pennsylvania field where so many died that “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Dr. King preached from here to a crowd of 300,000 marching on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Marian Anderson sang from here when the the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her entrance to Constitution Hall on Easter Sunday 1939.

By 11:45 p.m. there were about 50 people beginning to gather together on the steps. There was a quiet peace broken by occasional fire works from across the city and celebratory horns honking on streets below. Barack Obama was slated to give his acceptance speech at midnight. Everyone was fiddling with Iphones and other gadgets tracking the news and trying to figure out how to get a radio signal. Finally, a guy from London pulled a real radio out of his coat pocket and set it down on the steps. As Obama made his way into Grant Park in Chicago, our radio savior pumped up the volume.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

I have to say that the small gathering broke into tears.

When Obama quoted Lincoln, there was a nod of recognition. “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And then in a rhetorical sweep that seemed to heal 40 years of painful history, he echoed Dr. King.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

The increasingly damp crowd shared a good laugh when Obama said:

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

As Obama’s victory speech came to an end, our tiny community clapped and hollered and whooped and did a little dance there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Strangers hugged each other, held each other, cried on each others shoulders. The Europeans in the crowd said how proud they were to be there and share this moment with America.

It was a magical moment.

I drove back through the streets of D.C. People were everywhere. Horns were honking in celebration. People were dancing on streetcorners and waving Obama signs. Dupont Circle was mobbed with revelers cheering and laughing. In front of the Ethiopian restaurant on 18th street, there was a crowd of men singing the “Ole Ole Ole” soccer song and waving signs. At the corner of 18th and Columbia, a guy was playing a guitar and dancing.

Before leaving the Lincoln Memorial, I walked to the steps where Dr. King preached on August 28, 1963, when I was two and a half months old. There’s a small engraving in the marble to mark the spot. One hundred years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, King said:

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. … But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

At about 1 a.m. I parked the car in the alley behind my house. The city was still ariot with joy. I figured it was time to dry off and get a good night’s sleep. … but my face was hurting from all the smiling.

Welcome world, to America’s “invigorating autumn.”.

Election Day: Voting in the Last Colony

I used the fact that I still haven’t adjusted to the time change after returning from Ireland to Washington, D.C., to my advantage this morning. I got up at 6 a.m. Went to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and chocolate glazed. Then went to 14th and Columbia Rd. NW to cast my ballot for the first truly progressive candidate for president that the U.S. has seen in some time.

When I arrived at 6:45 am, I was about 400th in line. Stunning. I stood with neighbors and former co-workers and people who I only know because I’ve seen them on the street. We laughed and joked and generally said how great it was to be able to stand in line and cast our vote. Everyone acknowledged that the District of Columbia, the continental United States’ last colony, would go Democrat, but no one was going to miss the opportunity to vote.

I haven’t felt such positive, happy excitement and determination in America in a long, long time. Even the school kids riding the city bus past the polling station lines, wrote notes of support on their lined notebook paper and held them up to the bus windows as it drove by.

I stood in line for about an hour and a half. The system inside the voting station at the Latin American Youth Center was a little chaotic, but functional. I used my Number 2 pencil to “connect the arrow” and ran my ballot through the reader. The nice woman at the machine gave me a “I Voted” sticker and thanked me.

It is done. I left the polling place, nodded to the D.C. polling station police, and walked the entire line back to my car. There must have been a thousand people in line when I left. Is it wrong to add that the sun broke through the clouds just at that moment and the birds seemed to make their morning calls just a little louder than usual? I don’t know. But something sure feels good..

Ireland: The Photo Not Taken

Okay, look. I was in a tiny Hyundai rental car driving on the right-hand side of the road with a right-hand steering column at 100 km/hr. It was raining. I wanted to get to Kildare to visit St. Brigid’s Cathedral. I had things on my mind, okay? Like remembering that it was okay to drive the round-abouts backwards and to all ways make “short left and long right” turns. And to avoid hitting sheep. In the middle of all this, we flashed through a town on the N7 that said Moneygall.

Yep. The birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-grandfather Fulmuth Kearney. There was a sign on the way into town that said: “Welcome to Obama Country.”

I should have turned around and gotten a photo. I mean, it’s historic, right? The first African-American president of the United States and I’m in the town of his ancestors days before the most important election in modern history. I should have taken the photo. I even said that out loud in the car. “I should turn around and get that photo.” I kept thinking, there’ll be another sign on the way out of town. There will be some other sign on the Moneygall main street. But it’s a town with a population of 298. And there was road construction. And did I mention the rain?

There’s a fun Washington Post article from last year outlining Obama’s connections to Moneygall.

“Sure, it’s great!” said Henry Healy, 22, a villager who said family records indicate he is distantly related to Obama. Like many Moneygall residents, he is suddenly following the U.S. presidential race more closely and rooting for his kinsman. “It would be brilliant if he won because for one thing, he is related to me, and also it would be good for the village.”

And today’s Irish Times also has a nice piece:

Residents of Moneygall, on the N7 Limerick road, are gearing up for a US election party in Ollie Hayes’s Bar in the town tomorrow night.

“There’s a huge amount of excitement in the area now that election week is finally upon us,” said Canon Neill.

“We have Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys playing their song There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama and we hope to be celebrating with early indications from the US as the night unfolds,” said Canon Neill.

“Mr Obama said he’ll visit the ‘little village’ in Ireland that has adopted him, so we hope to be able to roll out the red carpet as soon as all the votes are in.”

So … while I have three or four hundred pictures of sheep and ancient Celtic beehive huts and scones in a farmers’ market and clam chowder and friends, old and new, I missed the shot of a lifetime.

Ah well. I guess I’ll just go vote. Slainte!.

Howth: ‘There’s No One As Irish as Barack O’Bama’

We had a great day in Dublin going to “James Joyce’s Tower” in Sandycove where Ulysses begins. Then had lunch at the National Library where we were able to watch the finals of the Poetry Out Loud contest.

I spent a fast hour in the National Gallery peeking at the Irish art of Sean Keating, Paul Henry, and Jack Butler Yeats (WB’s brother) and some of the classics: Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ (1602), Diego Velázquez’s Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus (about which Denise Levertov wrote her poem The Servant-Girl at Emmaus), and Brueghhel and Rubens’ Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1628).

Dublin, St. Andrews Street, October 2008
Dublin, St. Andrews Street, October 2008

But we can’t forget that the American elections are only 15 days away. While Republicans and Democrats are doing their best to highlight their differences, there is one commonality among the four candidates for President and Vice President that none can deny their Irish roots, writes genealogist Megan Smolenyak in today’s Irish Times.

It is Barack Obama’s Irish heritage that seems to have surprised most, and I confess that I own a t-shirt that sports the title of the Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys song: “There is no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but even the candidate was intrigued to learn of his Irish roots and has hinted of a possible visit to Moneygall, Co Offaly at some point.

Why Moneygall? Because that’s where his third great-grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, lived before heading to Ohio in 1850. Many don’t realize that tracing the place of origin for diaspora descendants is usually quite a challenge, and in the case of Obama, I considered myself lucky to find a couple of tombstones in Ohio for Fulmoth’s father and brother that steered my research to Moneygall.

Their story is a version of the oft-heard famine tale. Members of the extended Kearney family began emigrating to America in the late 1700s, but it was the 1848 death of Fulmoth’s uncle Francis in Ohio that sparked the departure of his immediate family. In his will, Francis left land to Joseph, Fulmoth’s father, but only if he came to America to claim it. Joseph left in 1849 and Fulmoth and a sister followed in 1850, with Fulmoth’s reluctant mother and remaining brother and sister making the journey in 1851.

Recent research into earlier generations of the Kearney line by the Irish research firm, Eneclann, has revealed a colorful family history of wig-making, land-dealing and politics, extending to Dublin.

Slainte, O’Bama!.

Howth: Obama in Ireland?

Dateline: Howth, Dublin, Ireland, overlooking the Irish Sea

The headlines in the Irish Times are much the same as in the States: “Banks to Pay One Billion Euros to Cover State Guarantee” and concern over whether or not new legislation cuts too much in health-care benefits for the elderly (over 70).

But in one-inch photos on the lower left-hand side of the front page are Obama, McCain, and Sarah P. (“Joltin’ Joe [Biden] has left and gone away”). The Irish and BBC commentators say that Obama won last night’s debate hands down. That McCain just looked old, ugly, and mean. And that Sarah “Bob Roberts” Palin has “provoked a sharp backlash among voters,” hurting McCain’s campaign.

The Op-Ed page only carries on commentary related to the U.S. presidential race: It’s by Garrison Keillor. The headline is “Barak’s Cool Poise a Testament to American Heart and Humour.”

“The man has walked tall,” writes Keillor, “and his wife has turned out to be the brightest figure in the whole political parade, an ebullient woman of quick wit and beautiful spirit.”

In other Obama v McCain news, I recommend taking at look at Rolling Stone‘s Oct. 18, 2008 issue. There is a very unpleasant investigative piece on McCain, Make-Believe Maverick by Tim Dickinson. Also don’t miss Karl Rove’s A-Team by Sean Woods. It’s good to know who is steering the spin machine in the Republican campaign.

My favorite quote from the McCain investigative piece is by retired brigadier general John H. Johns who studied with McCain at the National War College.

“He’s going to be Bush on steroids,” says Johns about McCain. “His hawkish views now are very dangerous. He puts military at the top of foreign policy rather than diplomacy, just like George Bush does. He and other neoconservatives are dedicated to converting the world to democracy and free markets, and they want to do it through the barrel of a gun.”

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