Sunday, February 24, 2008

Call Me What You Will, But Call Me a Drum Major For Peace

So, I support Obama for president. I voted for him. I wandered around New Orleans, in the neighborhood around the boarded up former Magnolia Housing Project, skipping the many homes still unrepaired and unoccupied since the great Federal Flood of 2005, and knocking on doors asking people to vote for Senator Obama. Some said they had already voted. One lady said she was scared to vote for him because "oh, honey, they are going to kill him if he gets it. They're not never gonna let no black man be president." Many young black men told me they "couldn't" vote, which of course means they have felony convictions, here in the only democracy on earth that prohibits those who have paid their debt to society from ever again attaining the full rights of citizenship. I was assigned to work alongside a schoolteacher, and we were an interesting pair: I, forty, white, the mother of one child, and she, sixty-odd, black, the mother of nine. As we walked from porch to porch, we compared perspectives on all sorts of things: feminism (I, feminist; she, antifeminist because, she said, children need mothers at home and besides, all this "women in workplaces and having lunch with men" just leads to too much adultery), Hillary Clinton's Iraq war resolution vote, divorcing cheating husbands (she did, I didn't, and of course Hillary didn't), why children aren't learning (I said parents aren't watching their kids; she, a teacher, said a good teacher should be able to teach any child, even one with neglectful parents), standardized tests (we both hate them), Barack Obama (we both love him), our experiences during many years of Democratic activism, the pornified culture of casual hookups (we're both against). Early in the day, when we were working opposite sides of Louisiana Avenue, she went inside a bar to ask people to vote. I was horrified for a second, but impressed. Those years as a military wife overseas taught me to be very leery of crowds of drunk men. Still, she went in, alone, and talked to people about voting. After that, I decided that if she dared go into places of business, I would too; if she were that brave, I would have to be also. So we went into a men's barber shop together, the place standing room only. And I went into a couple of corner stores by myself, handing out flyers and asking the shopkeepers to vote for Obama.

I've been following this story about how the Secret Service apparently gave up screening before all 20,000 attendees at a Dallas Obama rally had been checked for weapons. I'm glad, in a way, that this is finally being discussed because when Obama was here in New Orleans, at Tulane, I had some concerns about his safety, but I've hesitated to say anything (except I did come home and tell my husband). I was in the "overflow" crowd, meaning that not all of us got in, so Obama talked to us outside, before the actual speech. There was no screening of any kind and a crowd about ten persons deep was all that stood between me and the candidate. Since I am so short, I could only see the backs of people's heads, but had I been tall, like my husband, it would have been possible to aim over people's heads and...well, let's just say that I feel strongly that we should have been checked. I know he's doing these "overflow" crowds all over the country, and I worry about his safety.

So, yes, I am definitely for Obama now and have been for over a month. That's what I started out intending to write about. Go ahead and call me a member of a cult. I will laugh. Go ahead and call me a traiter to feminism. You might make me cry. But whatever else you say about me, say that, to paraphrase Dr. King, I really was a drum major for peace.

In the end, I chose the candidate who has always been against this war, even though I've longed to see a woman like me serve as president of my country, have wished for that every single day since, well, since I've been old enough to remember, since Congresswoman Lindy Boggs heard about how my teacher had told me I could aspire to be a nurse but not a doctor and the congresswoman knelt down, getting her navy stocking covered knees full of white dust, to hold my chin, look straight into my eyes, and tell me I could be anything I wanted to be. So, yes, I've wanted a woman president for so long. I know it isn't fair, that the patriarchy ensures that a woman who doesn't vote to go to war will be so marginalized that she will be unelectable, because she is already not-male, not macho, a wimp, a pussy, not to be trusted with manly matters like the defense of a nation. I know about patriarchy's double bind for Hillary Clinton, and the decision whether or not I could vote for her was torture for many months. In the end, I found Obama the best recipient of my vote, not because I'm part of a cult, not because I hate Hillary due to internalized oppression courtesy of the patriarchy, but because when I think of choosing a candidate, I close my eyes and can still feel the tight hug Cindy Sheehan gave me when I met her at Camp Casey the weekend of Katrina (she has the strongest, fiercest, and most unreserved hug, as if she's living through so much pain that she has abandoned unimportant stuff like shyness or self-consciousness), because, in the end, I want to be a feminist and a drum major for peace. I want to champion military women so that they don't get sent into "preemptive" wars. I want to champion working people, who overwhelming populate the military of the supposedly all-volunteer force, which is, in reality, a force that conducts conscription via race and poverty.

I think I've been faithful to those goals - and to feminism - in supporting Obama over Clinton. Still, reinforcement helps, like this video, which is in Spanish with subtitles, but which truly speaks the language of the heart:

"Si se puede cambiar" (yes, we can change)
For too long we've been sleeping
but we've been afraid to dream
daunted by the critics who tell us
that there is nothing we can reach...
but yes we can.

Today bombs fell on children
in an air strike south of Baghdad
how many have died because of lies
how did we lose our hearts
what was the purpose of this war
who profits from this injustice
who voted for this war
and who told us the truth

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