By Ruth Conniff
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He stirs us out of apathy and can bring ground-breaking change.Because, as you may have possibly heard, the Democratic Presidential candidates did not campaign in Miami, where I live, and they, as of now, are not having a revote here, I am one of a handful of people with an Obama ’08 bumper sticker glued to the back of my car. In a city filled with exotic SUVs and flashier automobiles, my small Toyota Echo inspires conversation wherever I go. Though I have published a few books, I am not used to so much attention. In addition to the occasional supportive honking and thumbs-ups, these are the five most frequent inquiries to my bumper sticker and my now, oft-repeated responses to them.
Q: Wherever did you get it?
A: It was smuggled across state lines.
This is true. My bumper sticker came to me via a friend who’d been telling my husband and me to prepare to campaign for Obama soon after the Senator spoke at the Democratic National Convention four years ago. The day Barack Obama declared his actual candidacy and the stickers were printed, my friend got a bunch of them sent from the Obama headquarters in Chicago and distributed them to a few of us down here in Miami. Who knew my bumper sticker would be campaigning harder than I would?
Q: Did you know that his middle name is Hussein?
A: Quick, what’s your middle name?
Usually, it’s something embarrassing that the person does not want to share with a total stranger. Those who do own up to their own middle names eventually admit that their parents could not be expected to be seers and predict that it might one day become unpopular. I then add that my middle name is Rosa, and then say, “Look, I’m not exactly blooming in Spanish, am I?”
Q: We’ll have a race war if he wins.
A: Does that mean we can look forward to a gender war if Hillary Clinton turns out to be the nominee and the President of the United States?
No one’s ever really sure what to say to that one, even though one teenage girl fidgeting at her mother’s side in the supermarket parking lot did say, “A gender war might be kind of cool.”
Q: He’s all talk and no substance.
A: Look at what the “substance” that people voted for the last two times got us into: A disastrous war. A looming recession, if it isn’t already here. And we got mispronounced words on top of it.
“Oh the horror!” as Joseph Conrad might say.
Actually one woman in a mall parking lot turned her nose up at me and pointing at my bumper sticker actually shouted, “The horror!”
Q: He will be killed if elected.
A: I can’t be glib about this one because the people who say it to me are always so earnest. Often they are older men and women, many of whom have lived through the civil rights era and its many assassinations. “There are ‘Who Killed Obama?’ sweatshirts being sold in one shop in Manhattan,” one woman tells me. We have to hope, I say, that we live in a truly different age, where these other deaths paved the way for this dream to live.
All know is that whether or not Senator Obama captures the Democratic nomination, my sticker is here to stay. I am supporting him because this country desperately needs a change of leadership and that change needs to be ground-breaking. We need to be stirred out of our current apathy in a way that our neighbors’ foreclosures and a nearly $4 gallon of gas still hasn’t managed to.
I am supporting him because the prospect of my daughter’s grandchildren having to show up for that hundredth year in Iraq terrifies me. At least Obama had the sense to oppose the war even when doing so risked getting painted by the unpatriotic brush.
I am supporting him because, frankly, the win-at-all-cost mentality of the other side disgusts me. I am a feminist who is bothered by the double-entendre of the 3 a.m. phone call, which leaves hanging in the air the not so subliminal suggestion that one has a more experienced spouse who might also answer in the dead of night should terrorists attack. To use fear-mongering to win a primary suggests to me that it might erode a Presidency, and we have had enough of that.
I am tired of hearing a politician tell me in a political speech that I should not pay attention to political speeches, that they are just “words.” Speeches can wound or heal, as shown by both Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s YouTube snippets and Obama’s eloquent response. Both men’s speeches, as different as they are, offer us a unique opportunity to have a true dialogue on privilege and race and religion in a way that we never had before.
As an educator, a person who works with young people, and who works with words, I am also heartened to see a large number of young men and women find their own political voice in a way that they haven’t in a very long time.
Of course, one can never be sure that any politician will follow through with what he or she promises in the heat of battle, but I believe that Barack Obama has a better idea of what it means to be poor, uninsured, and unemployed, as an increasing number of Americans are these days. He has lived abroad and knows what it is to be an outsider both within and outside this country, a fact recently brought to our attention by the purposeful misuse of those images of him in African garb.
I sometimes mourn the 2000 Al Gore Presidency that might have been. Here in the state of Florida, with our voting irregularities, we handed the upkeep of our environment to big oil and possibly unknowingly chose war over peace.
I fear that we will once again choose legacy and complacency for God knows how many more years.
But we can and must do better, and until my bumper sticker fades into the Florida sun, this is what it’s meant to say.
Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer living in Miami. Her most recent book, “Brother, I’m Dying,” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography.