4.30.2008

Wright, not White

I previously shared on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. How impressed I am by him, as he applies the truth of the Gospel to American life, how he's a true prophet, and how I wish Obama had supported him, but I understand that Obama can't, as he's running for office to be a leader, not a prophet.

Since that post, Hillary and the Republican Machine have come out to condemn Wright, and through him Obama. Hillary has reminded us all that she's not part of a church by stating she would have left that church after not agreeing with her pastor. (Obama had it right when he compared Wright to a family member- everyone in a church is. We don't just leave our churches like cherry pickers when there's something we don't agree with. You remember that last time you disagreed with something your pastor said? I do- three times in the last sermon.) Wright has finally come out to begin to defend himself. And Obama has adamantly, irrevocably, and completely distanced himself from Wright. He misinterpreted Wright's use of the word "politician" as negative, when Wright was just using it as a description of Obama's occupation. I wish Obama hadn't distanced himself, but I understand he has to, to win this election- for many of his supporters will also hear the word "politician" in the same manner. Ultimately, Wright had a poor choice of words- for he is not a politician.

But let us turn to Wright's defense. It was beautiful. For again and again, Wright pointed out that he wasn't defending himself. He was speaking on behalf of God - true apologetics. He was speaking what the Bible say on justice. He was patient, and waited a long time before responding to his critics. Now he does, in a few interviews and speeches, and is accused of trying to make a name for himself by media pandering. Everyone seems to forget the incredible weight of attacks by the media, Republicans, and Hillary a month ago, as those parties sought to make a name for themselves on the back of Jeremiah Wright.

As Wright defended the politics of Jesus, he also demonstrated that his remarks were deep in the black preaching tradition. But he isn't the first to point this out. And this is what is saddest from this entire controversy.

There wasn't much I disagreed with in Wright's remarks- and I refer to the out-of-context snippets on YouTube. But though I'm white, I didn't grow up in American culture. Most American whites were shocked at what Wright said. They couldn't believe that a loyal American would say such things. Most American blacks were scratching their heads and wondering what the big deal is.

What the Wright controversy has revealed is a deeper kind of racism. It is the not merely the discrimination that occurs every day, but the lack of knowledge and awareness of the other in our midst. We (white America) are fine with blacks as long as they stay like us and act like us. When they're by themselves, they can do their own thing. But we've reached the point where, at least in general, we'll treat them with respect and equality as long as they act white.

Imagine the shock to find out that they don't always act the same way. Anyone who's had the opportunity to visit or be part of a black church already knows this. There is a strong tradition of the prophetic in the black church- and by prophetic, I of course mean in the Biblical sense of the word - calling people to justice. What Wright said was no different from what you hear in thousands of black churches- and also from the Reverend King, as he contemplated his last sermon "Why America May Go to Hell" because of the lack of concern for poverty- a sermon he never gave because an assassin's bullet got in the way.

But we in white America don't want to hear that. We in rich America don't want to hear that. We want to be happy in our privilege and wealth, and if the underprivileged and underclass want to go off somewhere to make themselves feel good, so much the better- just don't let us hear about it. And God forbid that we should be called to account for our actions. I fear we desire the metaphorical assassin's bullet to silence the prophetic Biblical calls to justice and change.

And now, we ask that, even in the black churches, these voices be silenced. Sure, this is wrong, because it steals from people the place where they can freely express themselves, and witness to the injustices of their oppressors. But more than that.
More than that, it steals from us the prophetic witness that we need as a nation, as a people. Without the black prophetic witness, our nation is very poor indeed. Without that call for justice, our Christianity becomes a weak, snivelling thing, withered on the vine, suitable only for the rubbish heap and gehenna fire. What has grown in the pyre of years of torture and slavery is a phoenix truth of what it means to follow justice and hope- what it means to be a Christian.

Hope. There's that word again. Make no mistake, the same hope that inspired Obama after listening to a Rev. Wright sermon to write The Audacity of Hope, that same hope was born in the fiery calls to justice in the misery of oppression.

Obama has to lead all of America, as Wright said, and therefore he has to speak to lower class whites like myself, to those of us who don't even begin to understand the black prophetic voice, and are repelled by it. But here there be dragons. Obama too strongly distanced himself from the truth of the Rev. Wright's words. Wright's words were racially tinged because he was pointing out the racism in American society. And if Obama goes too far in rejecting what the Rev. Wright says, Obama risks losing that very foundation of hope that has galvanized a nation.

For let us not forget. This hope did not begin with Obama. This call for justice did not begin with him. It did not begin with Jeremiah Wright. It did not begin with the Reverend Martin Luther King. For the beginnings, we need to go a little earlier. In the following quote, only the racial words have been updated to reflect modern class distinctions.

Come now, you whites, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the migrant laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the blacks have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

James 5.1-5

4.15.2008

I don't get it.

I was away from the internet and the news for the last few days, so I missed all of the hub-bub about Obama's remarks on the bitterness of the disenfranchised. I agree with the candidate- not the best choice of words, but fairly accurate for how the poor masses feel- he seems to have his finger on our collective pulse, so to speak.

So I was shocked and confused by Hillary's response- that Obama was "out of touch" with small-town America. Granted, it doesn't appear that most of the public is believing her on this one. But how could she even imagine that we would believe her? Obama grew up in poverty and overseas. He is the most committed Christian candidate we've had for this office since Carter. Or does Hillary think small-town America is the same as wealthy America, and therefore Obama is out of touch with the wealthy?

Let us compare this with a candidate who has little open display of her Christian beliefs- so much so that she said that if she'd heard what the Rev. Wright said from the pulpit, she would have long ago left that church, telling all of us who do attend churches that she's very unfamiliar with actually being part of a church, rather than just attending. For all of us have heard items from the pulpit that we strongly disagree with from time to time- its part of being part of a church, as opposed to a cult, where everyone agrees.

Let us compare this with a candidate who with her husband made 109 Million since leaving the White House. This is not to say Obama's hurting economically- he's made a couple million in book sales. But they aren't even in the same league. If we're asking who's more out of touch with the poor, the small-town resident, the average voter- is this even a contest? How could she not see she's shooting herself in the foot?

Perhaps this is why Obama appeared to be more angry than I've ever seen him before, in his response to Hillary's attacks. Oh, he wasn't frothing at the mouth, like some sort of John McCain. His anger is certainly understated, but also fully present. You can say a lot of things about Obama. But to accuse him of being "out of touch" with the poor and downtrodden is simply too ludicrous a proposition.

4.05.2008

Feeling Useless for Obama

Today was the Legislative District Caucuses, the caucuses after the Precinct Caucuses, before the Congressional District Caucuses, before the State Caucus, before the National Caucus. I was an Alternate Delegate, which means basically if any true Delegate gets sick or dies (or doesn't show up), I'm on. It's like being the backup in a duel.

Our district was one of the top two in delegate count in the city, and the 2,500 delegates and alternates filled up Ballard High School Gymnasium. We were asked to show up as early as possible, since there were so many to credential, and the line wrapped around the block like an opportunity for Dead tickets. Then we finally entered the school, and the line ran into the cafeteria, and wrapped around the cafeteria. Then we finally left the cafeteria, and the line ran up the Mayor Nicholsstairs, down the hall, a right turn, and down another hall.

Credentialing was a quick process, and after we went to sit on the hard benches designed for kids who's backs still work. We were given red stickers or green stickers. Green meant that we were an Alternate- lower caste. Red meant we were an actual Delegate, one of the cool kids that everyone liked.

At the beginning was a standing for the pledge of allegiance, and I stood out of respect, without pledging, as has been the practice throughout my life. Disbursed throughout the long Congressman McDermottproceedings were a number of speeches- including an introduction by Mayor Nichols, who I previously saw endorse Obama at the Rally of 20,000. We were also treated to a speech by Congressman McDermott, the Very Liberal congressman who is one of twenty who supports equal rights in the Middle East and justice for Arabs, and who I had the pleasure of thanking in person at the Precinct Caucuses.

Honestly, this wasn't nearly as fun as the Precinct Caucuses. I think in large part because it was less intimate, less relaxed, less democratic. The chair of the session had a hard task in front of her, dealing with 2,500 people, but she seemed focused on playing everything by the book and getting through the events one after the other with a minimum of fuss. Yes, it was hard to hear anything in that auditorium if people had other conversations, but she was a bit militant in insisting on her way.

There were a number of times of seating of delegates. As an alternate, we were told we could vote on issues, but that turned out to be untrue. As an alternate, we could do nothing- but sit and wait and hope that delegates from our precinct didn't show up. If there weren't enough delegates or alternates from a precinct, then that candidate, Obama or Clinton, would lose delegates. That's why we were important. And so we would wait.

A few times in the session they would call out names, and I sat there on tenterhooks, hoping and hoping to hear my name, like I was back at a high school debate tournament hoping to hear I'd won the tournament. I had the same trepidation and pounding heart. If picked, we would go into the adjoining room, and change out stickers and move up the ranks.

My precinct delegates sucked. They all showed up, and I wasn't needed. It was like not being Sean Astinchosen for dodgeball. A friend from church got to move up, but I did not. I just sat there while all the cool kids made fun of us. (Not really, but the thought came to mind.)

There were three speeches each for the two primary candidates, the first by Samwise Gamgee. I'm not lying. Sean Astin was there to share about how much he supported Clinton, though he spent the beginning of his speech talking about how much he'd support Obama if Obama's the nominee.

Here's a bit of his speech. This part was interesting.
videoThe cynic might say that Astin's use of Obama's middle name, done by other Clinton supporters, was a way of reminding people that Obama has Arabic and Muslim names like the presumed enemy of America. The way he said it, he might however have been celebrating the international nature of Obama's name. It would be easier for me to believe this if other Clinton supporters hadn't played the game of using Obama's middle name. But you be the judge.

After all those speeches and credentialing, or somewhere in between, we had the voting of the issues. Alternates could participate in the voice vote, but if a voice vote was unclear, they switched to vote by blue cards, given only to Delegates. I voted against the overall charter of beliefs, for it supported the troops, abortion, and a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. Indeed, as they read the charter, there was this odd little bit of stopping in the middle to stand up and applaud uproariously all veterans and families of soldiers present.

Mostly, I felt useless. But there was one bit where I got to participate. Anyone could give one of the three pro or anti speeches for the six different resolutions. I found the resolution against suspending the writ of habeas corpus enticing, but wasn't able to get in the line quick enough. After that I learned to stand in the line early, and so was first in line for the similar resolution against the usurpation of congressional authority by President.

I had a minute to speak, so I shared about how since his time under Nixon Cheney had been working with others on the Unitary Presidential Theory, a strange idea that the President can basically do whatever he wants. I spoke of how signing statements (in which a President does not veto but rather signs a bill, but with a statement stating how it should be interpreted, often to the point of completely denying the point of the bill) were signed by previous Presidents, but George Bush has signed more than all previous Presidents combined. I mentioned that I'd lived in Morocco, and often told people there I appreciated the king, Hassan Tainy, more than the king from my own country. For George Bush operates as a king, and I am ashamed of this country, where I now see little difference between us and the worst dictatorships, where one man makes any decision he wants. I suggested that, to return this country to what the constitution intended, we should support this resolution.

I am not comfortable with unscripted speeches, and it was stressful to speak with 2,500 people staring down at you from the bleachers. By the end of my minute I quickly completed as my heart was thumping and my leg shaking. But I did get some roars of approval.

The final resolution was the most boring one. Do we support publicly funded elections in Seattle or not? We voted, and the chairman felt it was a tie, and therefore the resolution was declined. But some objected, so we voted with the blue cards. The chairman felt it was declined again. But some objected, requesting a line vote. This meant a thirty minute process in which every blue card was individually counted. It was about this time that the final delegates were seated, and I decided to leave. We ended up with 52 delegates to 15 Clinton delegates. With movement from the one Edwards delegate and the one Kucinich delegate and the 15 undecided delegates at the precinct level, we went from 1016 to 1038 Precinct Delegates, or from 51 to 52 Legislative Delegates. Due to some no-shows in certain precincts, Clinton lost some delegates in the 36th Legislative District (going from 319 to 286 Precinct Delegates). At the Congressional District Caucuses they'll determine how the nine delegates of the 9th Congressional District will be allotted to the State and National Conventions.