Today was a very special day.
It was a day that I knew well ahead of time I would be able to take direct, personal action and create future hope, future love, future admiration, future CARE, passion, compassion, and a legacy. All within my power today.
So I took full advantage of it.
I’m speaking of course of the literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to literally engender lifetime memories in my children of being part of nothing less than one of the most historic days in modern world history.
To gather my two small kiddiepoos and talk to them about the President of the United States of America and what that means and what voting was and why …and why…. and WHY. It was also an opportunity to see if I’ve learned anything from being a parent lo these 5 years since to make any of this worth a shit I had to do all this in words that would mean something to THEM.
Voting, it turns out, is like when they can’t decide between movies to watch and if there was one more person, the third opinion cast would make it a vote and decide who’s plan would go into action. Cool! Nailed that one, they grokked!
The President, it turns out, is like…well, where else to look than the new President’s favorite man who’s held the job, the man who laid the first Masonically charged cornerstone himself of the Capitol Building where President-elect Obama will take the oath of office, to whom that towering stone spike boldly acknowledges America’s debt to its sun-god-king originsway down in Egypt-land, the man whose name holds firm on the location of that monument, home to the government of the Country of which is he known as the Father . Georgie Washington. The President, it turns out, ladies and germs, is like a Daddy. Ohhhhh-K! They got that one, too!
The Website of the President’s house has a wonderful little scrolling dealie of allllll those faces of the men who’ve lived in the white house. I showed ’em George Washington. The OG George Dubya, yo. And I showed them McCain and then I showed them Obama.
I had them, my friends, wrapped around my finger. They were rapt. They got it. But before we walked to the polling place there was thing left to do to hit it out of the park: to get their laughter and emotions to a fever pitch about it all so that the memory would be with them of this day for the rest of their lives.
So I told them the story of my political awakening.
I know, I know, you’re saying, Kylen! Jesus Christ, dude, they’re KIDS! Booooooooooring.
(at this point, click the embed below to provide yourself with a charming soundtrack to your reading; it’s brother Marvin singing the national anthem.)
Ahh, but maybe YOU don’t know the story. I acted it out with the kids. And it went over so well I had to act it out like ten more times!!!!! Hahahahahahahaha.
Here it is, then, the story of my Great Political Awakening ~
I started by showing them the picture of the President involved.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The year, in fact, was the USA’s Bicentennial.
It was November 2, 1976. We lived in Helena, Montana. My mom (“gramma” in my retelling to the kiddiewinks) worked for the Montana Education Association, doing her union organizing thing, and she was not home that night as she would be at the local Democratic headquarters watching the returns for, among other items, the race between Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Though I had a live-in babysitter, I was still only 5, and found some comfort in sleeping in my mom’s bed. Then again, Montana’s frikken cold, and hers was cozier. I even got to fall asleep with the TV on. Woo hoo! I dimly recall Johnny Carson as I drifted off.
Before the big moment, a wee bit ‘o the background.
See, the whole point of trying to consciously imprint my kids today was because of something that is in fact, so important it’s easy to forget — what with my breezy, often totally hilarious bloggy blog blogging, here. u-hem! Politics is important. Social structures and playing a roll in allowing as many people as possible to thrive is important. I have named an on-all-the-time “game” to the kids: the Wa-Hoo! Game. The idea is that we each of us loves to have so much fun all the time that we yell out: “Wa-Hoo!” So the game is to constantly be vigilant of what we can do to ensure that anyone we come into contact with gets to also feel like yelling joyously, “Wa-hoo!”
The brilliance of the fellows in Philadelphia in the 1770s and 80s should not be underestimated, nor overlooked, nor missed for the romantic patinas of the usual idealistic buzzwords. They architected AND got up-and-running the Socratically clever societal “machine” that keeps things like the French Revolution from happening when it is correctly implemented. The “American Experiment” should not be misrepresented as a phantastical open ticket for all people to have a chance to be on top. It is not, was not, and was not intended to be. But it was intended to make a lot of people think so — AND, and this is critical — and to not be so downtrodden, so under the thumb of the owners of the means of production that they upset the fabric of society with bloody wars and uprising. Government, then, those smart men in Philadelphia reinvented as a moat, a buffer between the owners of the means of production and “the people”, or more pointedly, the workers, the people who made that ownership possible, and yes, that includes the slaves, which the boys in Philly also knew. They were smart men and they were rich men. They knew, like all rich really know, that they were rich because of other people’s labors and by dint of their lacking wealth. The capital “P” Past to those men, was the one where the rich people (royalty) were perhaps not as smart, since they really had done personally nothing to get the wealth, and to those Older Rich, the best way to protect your wealth was to have a lot of muscle and a literal castle and literal moat to keep the poor at bay. Well, that doesn’t work. The boys in Philly get a lot of flak these days since they pretty clearly did a lot to protect their own wealth. Well, duh. But they did it with intelligence and wisdom. The best way to protect their wealth, they saw, was to do something to ensure that the majority of the poor, poorer, poorest were never THAT poor (compared to how things had been elsewhere) — and not only that, but that they also believed they had a role, a voice, in the way the system works. The cynics among us, of course, will opine that of course the poor have always been shit on, still are, and that most of us do NOT have a voice, a means, that the system is so flawed as to leave most of us truly impotent. I won’t necessarily argue with that view. Plato relays to us that Socrates and his interlocutors hit on the idea that the ideal city-state (one that would maximize justice for as many as possible and be able to last and provide sustaining resources for its population and the opportunities for as many people as possible to thrive) would simply have to have a myth that misled people about some of the potentials that were not going to be potential for ALL the people ALL the time: the noble lie, it was called.
The great American poet Carl Sandberg — a biographer of President Lincoln — once said, “And what myth would have instead of ‘The People’?”
But the brilliance of the creation in Philadelphia was not just a system by which the rich could keep MOST people MOSTLY satisfied so as to sustain and improve their own wealth. The fact was, the system does offer means by which the rich, richer, richest cannot forever trample on human beings. The system has change — slow change — built into it within and around the system we call “checks and balances”. Those things are real. And the humanistic concerns that we bleeding hearts would call “improvements to the human condition” that have occurred in America are a result of the system being built with such change in mind.
Of the PEOPLE. For the PEOPLE. BY the PEOPLE.
Sooooo, back to my tale. Things I did not know in November, 1976:
— my mom’s mom had been among the first employees of the Social Security Administration in the 1930s. Her family — very poor dirt-farmers, descendants of both Amish immigrants AND two passengers on the Mayflower — were all big-time Roosevelt Democrats.
— my mom was in Chicago in 1968. She was there as a young journalist of the student teachers’ association’s publication, living at the time in a slum of Washington, DC, where she walked in anti-war vigils, and was a general lefty. Like the well-documented Democrats around the nation, she saw a darkness fall when Richard Nixon was RE-elected in 1972. From what I know now, I understand that in fact, a lot of thusly minded people were deeply heartbroken by that seeming defeat. And indeed they were vindicated: it turned out that Nixon did a little cheating during the campaign (leading to his disgraced resignation); Nixon’s administration played baptismal crucible for those who would populate Reagen’s White House and take the day in 2000, leading directly to the two wars we are now in, the many, many de-regulations of business that led to huge exploitations by business of the environment, humans, that led to the banking failures and resultant mega-mergers, among other things — learned, not insignificantly, in Nixon’s White House at the knees of the then-still-living OG Cold Warriors who had architected the speciously founded Cold War itself. They were right to be mad, sad, and afraid.
Most importantly, what i did not know when I went to sleep that night in November, 1976, thirty-two years ago, was that my mom cared about “politics” — whatever THAT was. More, I didn’t know such a thing mattered.
Then….she came home.
The door to her bedroom burst open with such a loud noise and shaking of the walls that my sleeping eyes popped open and I froze with shock. As she came through the door, my heard turning to see what rough beast dared to be invading my sleep, she yelled, as loud as I can imagine:
CARTER WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CARTER WON!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think she must have whipped the bed-spread off to hug me or something, because I remember being mad that I had been not only thus so rudely awoken, but was then freezing my ass off, looking at her false eyelashes falling off from the tears of joy. I really REALLY hate being woken up out of the blue like that, man. Harumph.
I’d seen her laugh. I’d seen her angry and had heard her be excited and happy before that. But I’d never seen her elated to the point of physical outburst. Nor have I to this day.
I’d gone to sleep that Tuesday night when I was five years old, loving my mom a lot and having my fine, secure little image and notions of her, chief among which was an extremely solid notion that she cared more for me than anything else in the world. A different person burst in that night and woke me up to the fact that my mom cared about something else — maybe even MORE than she cared for me since she was willing to disturb my sleep! (I’m only half-kidding…)
Obviously it’s apples and oranges. The kind of care we have for the world, the world of ideas, the world of society is different than the care we have for and offer our family.
But underneath is the same thing. Passion.
My mom didn’t burst in and wake me up that November night. Her passion for the world of politics, for the things that are possible, or even might be possible through that world and in this world is what burst through the door and woke me right the fuck up.
So I told my little kiddies the story of that. I laid them in my bed just like I was in November 1976 (daughter is now 5 years old, just like I was back then) and I walked out the door and burst in and yelled CARTER WON!!!!! with my arms up like my mom’s were that night. They cracked up. They then each took MANY turns being gramma bursting in yelling CARTER WON!!!!! and being me, all cozy and asleep being woken up. And we all took turns. They were totally sucked in to my little memory imprinting session. We then suited up and walked to the polling place. I put on my belt that has an American flag buckle. I put it on upside down as I have for eight years, and had to explain to them that it was cuz it indicates “at risk” and that I couldn’t switch to the right way until I knew if he’d won. So I voted. They each got “I voted” stickers along with mine.
We went home. We ate dinner. As we exited to house to take them back to mom’s house for the night, someone on my street ran out on the sidewalk seeing a friend and said, “I think he won.” I froze and said and thought: it’s only 8pm. It’s too early. Let’s not out hopes up.
More whoops and hollars came from every house on the block. Car horns honked. Someone set off firecrackers. I pushed the stroller stoically forward. The kids said, “What’s going on, Daddy?” I said, “Well, it sounds like a lot of people seem to think he’s won. But we won’t know until we see a TV or hear a radio. I bet mom will know.”
As we walked, more shouts of elation, cars honking. A tingle started in my toes and rushed up my body, and every hair on my body stood on end. My eyes went wide and I felt a steady, warm wetness start to leave my eyes. I felt so cut-off from information. How could they call it this early? That would mean he’d carried MORE than the states we expected. MANY more. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I walked fast and choked back tears a few times. On arrival at mom’s she confirmed it. I gave her a big hug. I held my kids aloft and told them: “Our guy won!!!!!”
Their eyes went wide and they said, “He DID???” Daughter ran up the steps and hooted and hollared throughout the complex. I hugged them both big and walked away. The tears flowed more now. I saw a guy walking on the street shaking his head with a big smile and a grandiose step and a “Whoa, MAN!”. And I stopped in my tracks to switch my belt. My phone rang and I was told that my son (3 years old) wanted me to come back real quick to tell me something, and I said I had something to show him, too. I turned around, went back the few steps to the front gate and they stood at the steps. My ex said, “They want to tell you who won.”
They shouted at me with huge smiles: “OBAMA WON!!!!!!!”
I shouted back: “Look! I switched the belt back!!!!”
I have no idea what exactly will happen to Obama, to our country, to me, my kids, etc, of course. But tonight I spent some time to draw my kids’ attention to the fact that there is something that matters A LOT. And even if Obama lost, they’d likely remember it for the rest of their lives. But our guy won, baby.
OUR GUY WON
And my son and daughter will remember this evening for the rest of their lives. And it’s a fucking historic day. My grandchildren will presumably hear about it. Long after I’m long gone, and after all of you reading this are, too, I hope that my grandchildren relay to their friends, lovers, and children a couple of stories about how their grampa got woken up when he was 5 by his mom because she was so totally psyched by the hope of what might be possible when her guy won, and how their mom/dad went with grampa to vote in Oakland the night that Obama got elected because as a way to impress on them the fact that involvement in civil affairs is no small matter, that it’s a legacy, that it matters, that it’s how we spread the Wa-Hoo Game far and wide.
Or something like that.
At the very least, they saw the whole neighborhood burst with joy because of the fact that Barack Obama is the next President of the United States of America.