by elie, Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 04:20:52 PM EDT
Today I volunteered for a political campaign for the first time in my life. Just Wednesday, I decided on a whim to attend a voter registration training event with the Obama campaign and through that I had an opportunity to volunteer at Obama's speech on patriotism at the Truman Memorial Building in Independence, Missouri, today. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the speech. Though it was open to the public, tickets to the event were gone in less than two hours.
While what I did at the event was not tremendously important in the grand scheme of things (I helped the to-dos of Kansas City and Jackson County politics find a seat), in attending this event I have renewed my commitment to turning Missouri blue this November and beyond. I met some fantastic and inspiring people, made connections, and made commitments to attend other organizing and voter registration events in my communitiy. I am truly impressed with Obama's ground game here in Missouri and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
It was fitting that the topic of the speech was patriotism, because admittedly my heart swelled with pride. I was proud of myself for finally getting out there and doing something about how dissatisfied I am with the direction in which my country was going. This motivation came not from admiration of Senator Obama, or even from hatred of George W. Bush or Senator McCain. It came from a deep love of my country and a desire to make it better; a desire to be part of what makes it better.
I have never written a diary before. This is mostly because I never felt that I had something suitably unique to add to the discussion, and that others expressed my thoughts far more eloquently than I ever could. But today I felt differently, I felt that I had part of the story to share and was excited to try my hand at this whole diary thing.
So, yeah, I was a little disappointed to find that the bogosphere was consumed with implied tits and tats that the media created for us, while the actual content of Barack Obama's speech was not being discussed. I hope to have that discussion in this diary, so I would appreciate it if the wild conjectures about who said what when and why could be left out. There are plenty of diaries in which to discuss these things.
Well, I have certainly rambled quite a bit here (I'm new at this), but I was hoping to share some of what I thought were the highlights of Senator Obama's speech today and maybe have a discussion about what patriotism means to each of us...
Obama began by discussing various reasons we might be thinking about patriotism: the war in Iraq, the upcoming holiday, the current election. But then he brought the hammer down:
Finally, it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the question of who is - or is not - a patriot all too often poisons our political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us together.
So let me say at this at outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.
I felt like this was a stong way to address the ridiculousness that surrounds him w/r/t patriotism. From debate questions asking if he "believes" in the flag to outright lies that claim he refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance. He is telling the Republicans that if they really want to (continue to) go there they should be prepared for a fight. He also spells out for the listener that this whole "OMG! Flag Pin!" controversy is a cheap political ploy that degrades our discourse and our country. Meanwhile, he takes the high road with his pledge not to attack the patriotism of anyone in the campaign.
The main purpose of the speech seemed to ask the listener to really contemplate the meaning of patriotism; to really unpack that loaded word to clarify not simply what it means, but what it should mean:
Given the enormous challenges that lie before us, we can no longer afford these sorts of divisions. None of us expect that arguments about patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit.
And while McCain may have some easy go-to answers for this question (military service, etc.), Obama spoke of his personal experiences and "...the way the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child." I found this facet of the speech to be very relatable. While I may never have lived in Hawaii or Indonesia, I do feel that my own sense of patriotism was instilled within through the values and culture in which my parents raised me. I hold that dear and am rightfully offended when my patriotism is questioned.
This part recieved two standing ovations, one for Mark Twain, and one for dissent:
Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.
I particularly enjoyed this part because even though I am not entirely thrilled with the direction Senator Obama has taken his campaign in the general, it reminded me of why I remain so committed to seeing him win Missouri and the election. I do not agree with Obama on every policy decision, but this man believes it is my civic duty to stand up and present my case when we do disagree. This is a welcome change from the last seven and a half years, and I certainly do not hear anything about respect for dissent from the McCain campaign.
There was so much more in this speech that helped me renew my concept of patriotism and my commitment to fulfilling my own patriotic duty in this election, but I have already gone on too long. The bottom line is that we have let the right define patriotism too long. It's our turn now. What were your thoughts on Senator Obama's speech today? What does a progressive definition of patriotism look like?
(oh... and the other bottom line is that it is really easy to get involved in a meaningful way in this campaign. please, check out events in your area and take this country back!)