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August 31, 2009

A New America

I went to bed exhausted. My mind was crammed with images and words of the past month full of health care reform events, rallies, meetings and editorial submissions. The words "get a job, we hate you and Obama" and unprintable expletives rang in my ears. The visions of old ladies being forcibly carried out of Austin's health reform rally Saturday August 29th 2009 as they clashed with proponents of health care reform and proudly carried signs of a Nazi Obama. What a month I thought as I fell asleep. My last conscious thoughts were optimistic - that the efforts of Bell County Council had made a difference in humanizing the debate on affordable and accessible healthcare for all.

I was awakened by what I would like to think of as an omen. I was having dinner with President Obama and First Lady Michelle. We were at an assisted living facility surrounded by seniors angling their wheelchairs and walkers to get close to the President and thank him for the passage of health care reform legislation. I was miffed since the meal had begun with just the President, Michelle and I. Where were these people coming from and how dare they interrupt my time with the President? As I was conjuring up ways to politely tell the seniors to get lost in walks Denzel Washington, Will Smith and my estranged son, Jumoke. My son hugged me close as Denzel and Will gave me a shout out as they pulled a chair up. It was a dream interrupted by joy in my heart and the damn alarm I had forgotten to turn off. But the seed of hope had been rekindled and I woke up with a smile on my face.

This past month has been one health care reform event after another, and the August congressional recess was a call I had to answer. The people I stood with, rallied with, and wrote letters with, all had a common purpose. We want to educate and inform our neighbors how important it is to insure the passage of health reform this year. The proponents of health care reform seek to demonstrate brotherly love and not just talk about it. During the Austin rally on August 29th one of the speakers inquired as to why if you talk about helping your brother you are a Christian - but if you actually want to put action behind helping your brother you are called a Socialist? It is a question that should be asked across the nation - and answered by those who value money before life.

I have heard throughout this month a phrase repeated, "I want my America back" and it gave me pause to wonder what were they really saying? Was it the sentiment like the guy who told me to go back to the ghetto (Temple Telegram August 23rd 2009) or the people driving by in their cars at honk and waves flipping the finger and screaming out vulgar names? Was it the people who were still holding on to the anger of the lost election of 2008 when President Obama was elected? What were they talking about? Was it the home of the free for some, equal access for some, opportunity, fair representation of the law, education, health care and housing all for some? Was this the America they wanted back? Sadly yes. The America I have known all of my life. It was the encouragement of my parents, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and recently, Teddy Kennedy, all deceased, that held up the vision of a country that could be better. Their words and their works equipped me with a dream that lives in my heart and fills my consciousness of a new America. I don't want the America back that speaks of ideals but fails to live up to them. I want an America that strives to be better. As I watched the funeral of Teddy Kennedy yesterday I felt a sadness of losing a great man who spent his life trying to change the face of America. But the sadness was eclipsed by the joy of knowing the foot soldiers his legacy leaves behind. There are millions of people like me around America who know we can be better. Teddy Kennedy passed on the baton to another visionary, Barack Obama. He needs our help and we need his help to forge this new America. America the beautiful is in our sights. Let us move toward it starting with health care reform for all.

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