Friday, October 31, 2008

What would you tell my mother?

A few weeks ago I spoke to the residents of a senior center in Milwaukee's central city.

It was diverse group of older working class men and women - a Vietnam vet, a disabled County employee, a retiree from A.O.Smith, a retired nurse. Not surprisingly, all were supporting Barack Obama.

After the discussion, a couple of women approached me with a concern. I had heard before when a colleague told me that her 82 year old mother and several friends were afraid to vote for Barack Obama because they feared for his life.

My colleague wrote her mother: “…if Dr. King had not made the sacrifice that he did for our nation we would not be where we are today...I am sure that Barack and Michelle have discussed his safety and are willing to make the sacrifice. By not voting you will be silently voting for MaCain and Palin.”

She asked me: “What else can we tell this population of potential voters that feel this way Mike?”

I replied: “Your mother is right that when the status quo is challenged there is push back.”

Little did I know at that time that the McCain Palin campaign would launch the most vicious personal attacks on a presidential candidate in recent history.

I continued:

Your mother knows better than I Frederick Douglas' truth that “...without struggle, there is no progress…that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

But history is informed by Douglas' insight. Let me tell you a story about my family that you could share with your mother.

When the Nazis were rounding up the Jews in Europe, many good people,
including some Jews, argued that to resist would make things worse. Six
million innocent people perished.

I had two aunts (women who survived and married my uncles) who were captured by the Nazis. One was imprisoned in Auschwitz. Her father, mother and youngest sister were murdered. She, her sister and brother were old enough to work so they were sparred.

My other aunt, Mariam, was 13 years old, a child really, when Hitler's army invaded Poland. Her brothers, 18 and 19, were captured, strip naked and shot as she watched. Later she also witnessed the murder of her older sister and child.

A local farmer hid my aunt. He provided her with a baptismal certificate, a medallion, some bread and water and said “Tomorrow is Sunday, lots of people will be on the road. Start walking and don't look back.” She did.

Eventually she was captured. Her life was spared, but she was enslaved for several years.

My aunts, both now dead, didn't often talk about that period of their lives. They took the farmers’ advice and tried not to look back. They lived with demons to be sure. But they tried to lead their lives with a dignity that belied their experience.

My parents made sure I knew this history. They believed that silence in the face of injustice equals complicity; that without struggle there is no progress.

So what would I tell your mother?

I would tell her that the blood and sweat, the hopes and dreams of her parents and those who came before are now embodied in the movement to elect Barack Obama. He carries my aunts’ dreams for a decent world as well. If we let him down, out of fear, we are letting anyone who has been unfairly treated or struggled for justice down, and we are letting ourselves, our children and their children down as well.

Barack is demonstrating that we have one life and we should live it with purpose. Talk to your mother. We need her vote. My aunts needs her vote. History needs her vote.



Dave Reid said...

@Michael amazing post. Obama already had my vote but I know there is this fear out there as I've had too many conversations about it... Tuesday should be a great day.

julilly k said...
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julilly k said...

Beautiful and moving story, MIke. Thank you for telling it. I think Barack and MIchelle have thought about this and made their decision. Now, all I think we should do is support them in it -- salute them for for their courage-- and each of us, daily, do what we can to counter the poison that makes this fear so alive for all of us.