Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don't put all your hope in one basket

Based on his platform and his record, I believe Barack Obama is what America needs now. If you, like too many folks, are unaware of Obama’s platform and record, I suggest you download the candidate's Blueprint for Change for a start. I also recommend that you read the excellent overviews of Obama’s accomplishments found at Jack and Jill Politics, Media Matters for America and Daily Kos. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama is a hard-working public advocate and one that is able to work well with the other side to execute a progressive agenda. (See his work with Republican Sens. Lugar and Coburn.)

In addition to a strong platform and background, there is something about Barry. It's not just that he is a powerful orator. He is definitely that. Maybe he has just chosen the right message at the right time. Maybe he's just got hella charisma. But something has people of all ages, all social strata, all colors and both political parties standing together behind issues that I think are important. This after eight years of divisive, Rovian politics. Just look at the audience at the speech below from Dallas, Texas.

Yes, Barack Obama is an effective legislator and an inspiring and unifying force. I believe in him and his campaign. I think that he will work toward the things I believe in if he is elected president. But...

Don't put all your hope in one basket

Barack Obama is not the Messiah. I worry about the folks who appear to think troops will come home from Iraq, our international problems will disappear, we'll all get raises and tax refunds, and reparations checks will be in the mail, within hours of Obama winning the presidency. The reality of politics is that change takes time, it takes sacrifice, and sometimes it takes compromising and getting a little less (maybe a lot less) than you hope for. When the shouting and sign waving is over and the work begins, where will you be?

Change in this country won't come from one magical candidate. Change requires an educated and engaged citizenry. As Obama often says, "WE are the change we've been waiting for." Our job doesn't stop once we vote our candidate into office. If, after this election season, the people who are breathlessly driving Obamamania go back to surfing the Internet, watching American Idol and blocking out the world with their little white ear buds, this much-vaunted movement will have been for naught.

I disagree with those who have vowed to pick up their ball and go home if their preferred candidate doesn't get the Democratic nomination. I ask, "Do you care about making this country better or do you just want to get your favorite candidate elected?" An Obama presidency can certainly be a catalyst for change, but we won't see a real difference in our country and in our communities until we, as citizens, take responsibility for our lives and our government.

We should be as impassioned about local politics and civic responsibility as we are about this presidential election. For instance, who is your state senator and what is he or she doing for you? When bills that are important to you come up in U.S. Congress, how do your representatives vote? Do you know? When is the last time you wrote your senator? What do you do between presidential elections to advance the issues that are important to you? Are you part of a environmental group, a human rights group...? Do you stay informed about what is going on in your city, your state, the country, the world? Do you read a newspaper daily? Do you call out the media for shoddy, one-sided journalism that leaves us all uninformed?

I do some of this stuff, but not all of it and not regularly, but I am committed to doing better. After all, on the chessboard of life, I want to be a powerful queen, like SheCodes says at Black Women Vote. Plus, there is that old saying: "We get the government we deserve." If we don't like the government we have come January 2009, it won't be Barack Obama's fault or Hillary Clinton's fault or John McCain's fault. It will be ours.

Track issues and legislation in the federal government, and learn how your representatives vote here.

Find and contact local and national media here.

Know your local candidates here.

Get your read on

I am disheartened, but not surprised, by the report on reading, released in November by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The study, To Read or Not to Read, says:
The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there
has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the
elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their
teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult
Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular
reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends
have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines
have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.

How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially
younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less
well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. (The shameful fact that
nearly one-third of American teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected
to declining literacy and reading comprehension.) With lower levels of reading
and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting. Read an executive summary of the report here.

It is news like this that worries me as we stand on the brink of a change-making presidential election. Change in this country won't come from one magical candidate. Change will only come from an educated and engaged citizenry. (More on this tomorrow) And how will we as citizens change this country if we are so incurious about the world, culture, politics, history and the arts, that we can't be bothered to read?

I am fortunate that my parents instilled in me a love of reading that continues to this day. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, often to my family's chagrin. As a kid, I was often reprimanded for reading at the dinner table. And my reading while watching movies drives my husband to distraction. "You can't be paying attention to this," he often wails. But there is something alluring to me about a brand new book or magazine or journal with an uncracked spine and pristine pages. Something unread represents a sort of promise--a chance to expand my mind, an opportunity to find answers to life's questions, sometimes just a chance to escape reality. And I can't resist. Much of what I know today about the language, writing, politics, art, history and the world, did not come from the classroom, but from reading.

Announcing: The What Tami Said Read-Along
I hope some of you feel the way that I do. And in celebration of reading, I hope you will support a new project on this blog: a quarterly read-along.
The Details: Each week, join me in reading and discussing a couple chapters of a good book. I'll write my thoughts about covered material in a post, and other readers can share their thoughts and discuss the book in the comments section. If this is popular enough, I might consider doing some sort of live discussion on Blog Talk Radio.
Timing: The first read-along will take place April-June.
The Book: Inspired by my blog sister, Mes Deaux Cents' wonderful post on protecting oneself from the dangers of our food supply, the first book we will read will be The Food Revolution by John Robbins. This book is an easy, eye-opening and inspiring read.
Robbins is a scion of the family that founded the world's largest ice cream company, Baskin-Robbins. Robbins' family made billions selling sugary, processed treats to the masses. Meanwhile, the author shares: "many people in the family struggled with weight problems, my uncle died of a heart attack in his early fifties, my father developed serious diabetes and high blood pressure and I was sick more often than not." Instead of becoming part of the family business as expected, John Robbins took a different route and has become a bestselling author and activist.

Find out the truth about popular diets, genetically modified foods, Mad Cow
disease, and the health effects of the food you eat. In this long-awaited and
provocative book, bestselling author John Robbins exposes the dangers behind
many of today's foods and reveals the extraordinary benefits of healthy
alternatives. The Food Revolution will show you how to extend your
life, increase your vibrancy and vitality, and take a stand for a more
compassionate and sustainable world. --from The Food Revolution

If you care about what you eat, if you are concerned about world hunger and sustainability, then you have to read this book.
If the spring read-along works, we'll lighten up a bit and read Too Much Tuscan Sun by Dario Castagno over the summer. I have on good authority from my cousin Robin, another voracious reader, that this is a great book. In the fall, I'd like to tackle something provocative about race or politics. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Are you on board?

P.S. Can some Blogger wizard explain to me why formatting copy using the quote tool screws up the spacing on my entire post? It is driving me NUTS!

Image courtesy of Dan Robinson on Flickr


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