Monday, September 01, 2008

Yes we can! at Mile High

Last 28th August, St. Agustine’s Day, was historic not only for the United States, but possibly for the world. Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan scholar father and a white anthropologist mother from Kansas, became the first nominated person of color to run for the presidency of the United States. He accepted the nomination in front of over 80,000 people and tens of millions of TV viewers at Invesco Field in Denver, Colorado. His 45-minute acceptance speech capped a nearly week-long Democratic National Convention that featured some of the best political speeches in recent times. If these speeches, tinged with wit, emotion, passion, common sense, and filled with hope, dreams, and determination, were made in 2004, the course of U.S. affairs since then may have been vastly different.

But as with the United States, the American people are a resilient people. This year they have another chance to change their state of affairs. I believe that they will in a fundamental and historic way with the election of Barack Obama. Indeed, to use the overused cliché, these are going to be very interesting times.

Nearly 200 people spoke during the four-day convention. Many if not most of the speeches were emotional, if not passionate. A few themes ran across the speeches. The first and most important, which was capped by Obama, is that America is about dreams and the fulfillment of dreams. To the speakers, that is what America is all about. That is why migrants risk everything to go the United States. America is about a new start, where the impossible is possible, where hope can become real. In America, your family name and origin are not liabilities. You can be the best you can be. Work hard and you can achieve your dreams. Ted Kennedy stressed it best; "The work begins anew. The hope shall rise again. And the dream lives on."

The second is that in a world of constant change and at many times, conflict, America needs to exercise a leadership that is not unilateralist. Bill Clinton highlighted this in stressing why Obama is the right choice. Unilateralism is really a code word for bullying and in recent years, the United States has been anything but unilateral. The result is that the country has lost worldwide influence and prestige; engaged in a disastrous occupation of two countries; caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries; and made more enemies. It is oxymoronic for the last remaining superpower in the world to use force, when diplomacy, development work, and police-intelligence/ counter intelligence work are the better options in addressing terrorism or combating STATELESS adversaries. Bill Clinton said perfectly; “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”

The third theme was about change. The change that the speakers spoke of was change based on family and the values of honesty, hard work, principles, ethics, sharing, and caring, and faith. Michelle Obama, Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy-Schlossberg, Hilary Clinton, Beau Biden, and Joe Biden, among many others stressed this. The powerful must be grounded on what the people are experiencing; what families are going through. Because it is in spending time with Americans all over, importantly those struggling, can leaders know what needs to be changed. As Obama said, “Change doesn’t come from Washington . . . it comes to Washington.”

The differences between the parties are striking. Obama comes from a multicultural background, which is indicative of tolerance. He knows poverty from personal experiences of growing up and from working on it. Michelle Obama’s message was clear; "We want our children and all children in this nation, to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."

Biden’s personal tragedies and his commitment to his family and community keep him grounded, with a commitment of no cronyism. As Biden said; “For every American who is trying to do the right thing, for all those people in government who are honoring the pledge to uphold the law and honor the Constitution, no longer will you hear the eight most dreaded words in the English language: The Vice President's Office is on the phone.".

Democrats favor research and investment in renewable energy, while the other party favors drilling in ecologically sensitive areas. They look at the immigration issue as a wedge issue that detracts from its economic causes, which need fixing. Obama’s “Yes We Can” parallel’s Cesar Chavez’s “Sí, se puede.” Social justice and compassion are what are lacking in the immigration debate. They favor talking and negotiating, rather than force as a blunt tool of negotiation.

Lastly, the Democrats’ message is one of HOPE. Hope energizes. It is about optimism. It is about faith and the virtues of sharing and sacrificing. The byline of fear and scare mongering, I believe, has run it last course. You can only scare people for so long to stay in power. After that, the game is up. Hope will prevail.

The Republican National Convention started with the stark reminder of Hurricane Katrina and the incompetence of the political and executive leadership three years ago. They should have consulted a feng shui expert as Hurricane Gustav hurtles toward Louisiana and New Orleans. This has forced them to reorganize the convention and cancel the speaking engagements of Pres. Bush and VP Cheney. This may bade them well, but it only highlights the reactionary actions and nervousness that abound.

There are reasons for optimism for Democrat supporters after the DNC, but the road to the White House will be narrow, rocky, and full of landmines. It will entail hard work, dedication, sacrifice, consistency, and importantly, integrity. Democrats are running on a message of CHANGE and HOPE based on VALUES and ETHICS. They must live it everyday.

For Fil-Ams, why where they invisible in DNC? Why no speakers? The interests of the Fil-Am, if not Asian-American communities, lie with the Democrats. There are initiatives such as Filipinos for Obama, but the silence and invisibility of Fil-Ams are troubling.