Obama, Change and The Missing Conversation
I was in a local espresso cafe this afternoon--short single shot latte for myself, an Americano for my dad, and a big cookie to share--when the tee-shirt on the young barista took my breath away, and momentarily, my ability to order some mid-afternoon caffeine. He was wearing Shepherd Fairey's iconic design-a poster shirt on which a headshot of President Obama's face is rendered in red/white/blue. "CHANGE," it said.
"Great shirt," I said. We smiled broadly at each other--the local boy and the local 60-year old. I wanted to talk, but my coffee was getting cold, and my dad was waiting for me in his condo two blocks up the hill, and my dog was tied outside looking in need of a bush sometime real soon. I hurried on, but hours later I'm still missing that conversation.
I wanted to ask him, "So how do you think he's doing?" I look at him: young, maybe his first time voting. Blue eyes, short blond hair, probably working his way through college on free caffeine and minimum wage plus tips. At least he has a job; at least I still have $5.00 for designer coffee and a cookie-and change for the tip jar.
I know Obama inherited an incredible mess surrounded by labyrinthine complexities designed to make solution nearly impossible. At first I said, "He's got to feed the lions, and then he can turn his attention to systemic change in the Empire." Months go by. I am busy, he is busy. I read Bill Moyers, Chris Hedges, Paul Klugman, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman. I read Newsweek, and skim the New York Times and Washington Post. Now I say, "Please don't let him be swallowed into the bowels of this powerful and deceitful dragon."
How are you Barack Obama? What are you reading? Who are you listening to? Remember all those people who stood in Grant Park on a warm November night, and on the national Mall on a cold January day? Remember how the world stopped to watch you step into this office? These people-- and I among them-- are willing to help you slay the dragon, and we cannot slay it if you are consumed by it or protecting it! Just so you know: I'm done shopping. I'm gardening. I'm saving money in my local bank. I'm practicing how little to spend and how small my energy consumption can be. I'm looking to you and Congress to reshape my country for its next phase of world leadership. I imagine a country dedicating itself to sustainable uses of energy and natural resources, retooling its economy for green jobs in a green future, reskilling the American workforce; a country weaning itself from consumerism, a country of diplomacy and foreign aid rather than ill-defined warring in a suffering world, a country with universal health care and decent public education, for Pete's sake.
I am emailing and writing and signing e-petitions and am frustrated at all the rings of protection that surround him now. Last week I got a letter from my President. He paid for the stamp, I noticed, nice touch. I imagine somewhere a room full of young people like the café latte boy, opening letters, glancing at them and sorting them into stacks for reply: concerned about economy, health care, the war... Then someone inputs my name and address and my acknowledgement is on its way. Minimum wage: no tips.
The President thanked me for my "perspective on the economy," though he didn't mention the Bill Moyers article I had stapled to my correspondence. He addressed me by my first name; he signed it "Sincerely," with his name-- a computer generated signature mark, no title-like I'd know who it was, nice touch. Only he never saw it. So what would happen if we all wrote-all at once? August 4 is Barack Obama's birthday-exactly 28 weeks into his Presidency. He needs to hear from his people. He needs thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of greetings streaming in all at once. Let's write-- in support, in concern, in celebration, in prayers for peace, in standing with HOPE, willing to believe in significant and radical CHANGE.
Let's all write. The postal service needs the money. We need to be counted. Buy a card or make a card; send drawings from your kids, a photo. Let's get personal. Wish him well, wish him wisdom, wish him courage-and tell him we're willing to come along. "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." He needs us-he needs feedback that is not filtered through a dozen advisors with a thousand interest groups yelling in their ears. I know no postman drives up to the White House doors. Our cards will be taken to the sorting room and run through security, but the impact of a hundred thousand birthday cards is registered somewhere. And maybe after they've been safety checked they'll actually let him take stack out to Camp David where he can drink iced tea with Michelle on a hot August afternoon, watch the girls play with the dog, and hold the heart of the people in his hands.
"Dearest Sir, Happy Birthday! Thank you for being President at this time. Remember what Alice Walker wrote you about finding the joy in this and not turning old and grey-skinned with burden? Let us help you. Let us tell each other the truth as it keeps evolving. I hope your garden is growing well. Aren't those peas sweet when they come out of the pod? And ripe tomatoes-- wow. Did you see the Star Trek movie yet? Wasn't that a great scene where the young Spock and the old Spock are talking with each other? The moment made me think of you-go to that old man, the former President, and ask him for advice. May you live long and help us all prosper. Love, Christina Freeland, WA"