Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Had a Dream: Presidents Elect & the Green Bird

I got up this morning, woke up from a dream, with the intention of coming here to write it down. So I will. But after that, I'm going to say something that some people might not like. So here goes.

I had a dream, last night, that Obama won the election. Well, that part's not hard to explain--since he did. So that's where my dream began, in a small public library in a suburban neighborhood where they were cleaning up the polling site for the evening, with CNN on in the background waiting for the results to roll in. And he won. And not only that, but he was there, and when the news that he had won was announced, everyone cheered and they piled Obama into a car, and we began driving. Yes, of course I was in the car. It's my dream. My father was driving, and someone else was in the front seat with him, and they talked animatedly the whole time. I sat in the back seat with Obama, glancing at him once in a while, trying to weigh him up, trying to read his face.

We pulled out past the town limits, passing under lots of telephone wires strung in the air. On one there perched a bird--about the size of a duck, a bright brilliant emerald green and with a tail that draped almost three feet long behind it, like a Bird of Paradise. As we drove underneath where it perched, it took to flight and began singing a breathtakingly beautiful song. It flew along with us as we drove down the long, straight road, across the country. Fields and lazy rolling hills stretched out before us on all sides, honest-to-goodness "amber waves of grain" and hillsides of warm patchwork fall foliage. Old broken-down farmhouses, log cabins and shanties passed outside our window, and the Green Bird flew over us, swooping and diving, swinging with everything it had. My father sat in the driver's seat, talking enthusiastically, saying something about how, "Kids can so easily wind up out here, in the country, in the wild--and here, because of the isolation, they can become great, they can discover who they are and become Great Men--or, they can falter and fail, become bitter and angry and hardened and ideological, isolated from others. It all depends. We need to encourage them to become Great, rather than to become small, to face the challenge of isolation and hardship and improve themselves by it, rise to the challenge, rebuild this place, become better..." The other person in the front seat eagerly nodded and agreed and chimed in. Meanwhile, I leaned over to Obama once in a while, who gazed out the window at the landscape not seeming to listen, and asked him a few quiet questions, "What would you have done if you'd lost? How are you feeling? What will you do now?" He mumbled in answer, looking, honestly, exhausted and a little bit terrified. Then he said only, "The land is so beautiful..."

And it was--the clouds overhead were dark and low and menacing, a frightening sky--but sunlight low from the horizon cut across in wide shafts and illuminated the land itself, illuminated everything all around us, the brilliant colors set off even more strikingly against the threatening horizon. I said, "Yes, it is... That's why I love the fall--it's like the whole land is shedding its skin and revealing its pulsing, vibrant underbelly right before--" Obama sighed and leaned his forehead against my shoulder. It jostled, bone against bone, as the car rumbled down the road. "And do you see the Green Bird?" I asked him, as though trying to comfort a child. "Look, can you hear it singing? Do you see the Green Bird? It's been following us ever since we left the city! Isn't it beautiful? There! Look, there it goes, just there!"

He leaned over, searching out the window, squinting into the sun, but couldn't see it flying. He looked tired and sad, and soon closed his eyes and fell asleep as they continued to drive him along.

And here's what I have to say: I wish people would stop fucking comparing Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr. Seriously. MLK was a pacifist, a visionary, a grassroots revolutionary, and a great human being. Obama is just an ordinary politician who uses passionate, familiar rhetoric (and who just happens to be black). Which is not to say Obama is a bad person. He just isn't Martin Luther King. I mean, I know all black men look alike to most white people, but get a grip.

And they wonder why us pacifist anarchist types are never satisfied, always striving. People are so eager to hand it all over to the next man with a nice face and pleasing words. But what has Obama done to prove himself worthy of this fluster of ecstatic worship? Nothing yet. He ran for and was elected to President (and in doing so already compromised on a number of his previous commitments which we have all quietly ignored and let slide because it was just so vital that McCain not succeed to the throne).

I hope he becomes worthy, or that at least he does his job well. But I'm just not inclined to worship, or exaltation, or holding my breath until I feel giddy and light-headed. And I'm certainly no prouded to be an American today than those 55 million citizens yesterday who thought their best idea all day was to vote for McCain. Should I be proud merely because I was born here? Should I feel patriotism for a place where an election can be so close and so many people still give in to xenophobia and misinformation? No, I just don't get it. I'm proud to be me, to be who I am and who I strive to become... but as for American--well, like I wrote on my voter registration form (under both "party" and "race"): "No Affiliation."

But don't be mad. Obviously, you all didn't need me anyway.


  1. I didn't vote Obama because I felt he was a great man, or because I felt that he, individually, will necessarily leave a legacy in any way comparable to that of Martin Luther King. I am well aware that he will be unable to do many of the things he has promised to do, and that he is unwilling to do many of the things that matter most to me.

    Obama was not my first choice in the primaries, but I voted for him for the reasons I usually vote for a candidate: on balance, he seemed the most likely electable candidate to realize at least some of my aims for the country.

    However, the reason I am excited at his victory, and that I am one of those who is remembering MLK so strongly this morning is that the fact of his election represents a culmination of a tide in history--one which was in many ways begun by MLK. (And in other ways, MLK was himself, of course, the fruit of a great tide of history that he himself spoke about.)

    Obama is just a man. He may or may not make a good president--I'm hopeful he will, but don't regard that as sure.

    Nor does his election mean we have achieved racial and economic justice in this country... any more than the Emancipation Proclamation did.

    But it is a huge threshold. And can anyone doubt that, even with all that remains to be done, somewhere, the spirit of the actual Martin Luther King (and a lot of others of the Mighty Dead as well) is smiling a most radiant smile?

  2. Ali -- Excellent, beautiful as always, and wonderfully timely.

    Cat is right, too -- it's an amazing day. Racism is not gone, but this election is testament to the progress that has been made in our culture, and inspiring for billions of people around the world.

    But I don't think that outweighs the damage that Obama will do as president.

    (Don't get me wrong -- McCain would have been even worse. And I don't think Obama is setting out to consciously expand the corporate-militarist state. But he won't be rolling it back, either, and in my mind that makes him culpable.)

    There ARE a lot of people pinning their hopes and dreams on one man. This is always dangerous -- for us and for him.

  3. People keep beaming at me and insisting that they're not expecting any miracles... But I can't help but wonder who they're trying so hard to reassure.

    On the phone over lunch, my father compared Obama's election to Kennedy's, who was young, energetic, inspiring and Catholic (which, to my understanding, was almost as unheard of back then as a black president was a few months ago--and has yet to be repeated). The comparison bothers me for a few reasons: (a) the only thing I know with absolute certainty about the Kennedy presidency (without having to look it up to check my dates, names and facts) is that it ended with an assassination; (b) many of the real change that occurred during that presidency occurred regardless of, not because of, JFK's own policies (I'm thinking mostly of civil rights progress and protest against anti-Communist hysteria); (c) even with all the inspiration and positive change that supposedly occurred during those two short years, forty years later we still found ourselves with a devastating Bush administration perpetuating illegal wars, horrifying economic policies and environmental abuses and playing on bigotry and fear regarding minorities' and women's rights. So... if JFK was such an historic president, and his "change" couldn't even last more than four decades--why should I be so deliriously hopeful that Obama will do any more than nudge us along a few more inches?

    I agree with you, Jeff, that it is always dangerous to mistake a man for a symbol. And I don't care if that symbol is of "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL" or of "THE SUCCESSFUL BLACK MAN". Putting such an emphasis on it only shows how far we still have to go. I look forward to the day when my grandkids can learn about the First Black President (and the First Woman President) in their history class and be as bored by its unremarkableness as I was by JFK being Catholic.