Better Still That They Be Sung

Denver, 1908

There isn’t going to be a horse race to cover, either in New York or San Diego, but we gave you the air waves for free 70 years ago and 357 days a year you can say who’s up and who’s down, who won the West and who lost the South but what’s wrong with 8 days, not every year but every 4 years, showing our leaders talking to us. Not a fraction of what they said but what they said. And then the balloons.
— Toby, The West Wing

The story all week is that there is no story. Why are we here? It’s a big, expensive, annoying (probably mostly so for Denver) spectacle devoid of any surprise or delight, not to mention redeeming value. We all should have just stayed home, sniff the networks that spent thousands of dollars to not only be here but build pavilions from which to report the complete lack of news. We should have just stayed home, mutter the people who wearied of the protests and protesters, of the speeches and songs, the silly hats and the sillier signs (seriously, Crystal Pepsi?).

But the story here is the story of speeches and songs, protests and protesters. It’s even the story of silly hats. We’ve had eight years in which we’ve been told to sit down and shut up, to fear one another and hate one another and never, ever ask why? We’ve had eight years in which we’ve been told that compassion is weakness, questioning is betrayal, and the urge to serve one’s country is due at best moderate contempt, and at most a stop-loss order and a long wait for care.

We’ve had eight years of charities shuttered, phone lines tapped, immigrants deported, rumors of torture that turned into horrifying fact. We’ve had eight years of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers, Karl Rove. We’ve had eight years of David Brooks, James Lileks, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Brian Sussman. We’ve had eight years of what one blogger last night called “the inexorable creep of political slime” covering every single thing about this country that we love.

And I think after all that, after all of that and worse, we need a big fucking party.

I’m being quite serious. The GOP has sucked all the joy out of American life for SO MANY of us, sucked all the joy and goodness and hope and faith right out of the world we know, with year after year of nothing but death. We’ve been demoralized and sad and angry, and we’ve all wondered, at one time or another, if anything we’re doing as Democrats is doing any good at all. We need to pack into a room together, with signs and stickers and again with the stupid hats, and listen to the people who lead us, and cheer or boo them as they deserve, as they’ve earned.

We need to walk around an amazing city, in the shadow of mountains blue and blush in the morning light, and see nothing as far as we can see but people with Obama buttons, Hillary signs, Biden stickers, donkeys on doors and windows and light poles, nothing but people who believe, in some fashion, in large part, what we believe.

And we need to say it out loud, say it as big as we possibly can with whatever voice we have, who we are and what we want, not just so that others hear us, but so that we hear ourselves.

So that we hear Diane Watson, who joined the Army in 1977, when women were even less welcome than they are now. Watson, who turned 50 on Wednesday, worked as a supply technician for twelve years in Korea and Japan before coming home and finding a job in a bank.

She rode the bus downtown Wednesday, an Obama fan to the core and a proud Democrat.

“We need to treat our troops better,” she said, when asked why she is supporting Obama. “We need to bring them home and then we need to take care of them, because the people in charge right now are not doing right by them. It’s time to stop this war. They shouldn’t be fighting someone else’s war, and that’s what this has turned into.”

So that we hear that we are the party that proposed and pushed for improvements to veterans’ health care, making of Republican bumper stickers the actual truth, the hard unsexy work that needs to be done when the flag-waving is over.

So that we hear that we are the party that fights for the equality of women, of minorities, of the poor and the powerless. We need to remember that we are the party that carries the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, in whose wake two men checking their text messages on Tuesday afternoon grew up, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Twenty-seven-year-old Roy Hightower and 26-year-old Will Preyer had travelled from the South to be, in their words, “spectators at this moment of history.”

Hightower was drawn to the Democratic Party by its support for the middle class, for working people like him (he works for Louisiana’s lieutenant governor) and his family. “They care about working folks,” he said.

Preyer was raised Democratic in a Democratic family in the South, but didn’t really become politically active until the Obama campaign. “As a Generation X-er,” he said, “this campaign, this man, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I felt compelled to be here.”

His younger sister, who has been apolitical her whole life, has been calling him nonstop on his cell phone, asking for photos and reports from what has become ground zero for young people in politics.

“She’s calling asking, ‘Where are you? Can you take a picture for me? Can you get me up there somehow?'” he said, chuckling. “When I see someone who has the power to move someone to that level of interest, I know something special is happening.”

So that we hear that as much as we have been disappointed in recent years by our own party, we are still the party that offers a place to those who see the highest call of government as service to its citizens.

So that we hear two women in sun visors and “Hope” t-shirts at a 15th Street bus stop, who stared as a man walked by, leashed to a dog that wore its own Obama bandana. They live in the Denver area, but instead of fleeing the city during its gigantic Wonk Sleepover Party, they came downtown to view the festivities first hand.

“I’m a teacher and a counselor and I believe that government is for everybody,” said Pat Sablatura, 64. “The Democratic Party is about community and respect for regular working folks.”

Sixty-one-year-old Donna VanHook’s party affiliation stems from her attention to what she called “kindness issues,” the social programs that grew out of minority movements in the 1960s, when she grew up. “What I saw in those years is woven into the fabric of me, the importance of being kind and helping people who don’t have as much as we have,” she said. “And in recent years, especially, the Republican Party has a real problem being kind to people in need.”

So that we hear single mother Jayneen Allen, 44, who became a Democrat out of love for her two young sons. Their schools are getting squeezed by penurious tax cap laws, by the constant arguing of greedy Republican politicians that nobody should have to pay for the things we as a country need to provide.

“I want them to have a better future,” Allen said, “and I don’t see one with John McCain as president. People are losing their jobs. Friends of mine are losing their homes. Working people who follow the rules and pay their taxes are getting squeezed, and for what? The jobs are all going away. We need a change.”

So that we hear the people who make us up, marrow and bone, so we hear them all together, in one place at one time, rising up and calling out to the rest of the country, come join us, come fight this fight with us, because this is who we are and this is what we want.

Maybe nobody’s saying anything “new.” Maybe nobody’s saying they found Obama’s Secret Muslim Stash or discovered a plot for a Hillary Coup. Maybe nobody is, thank God, blowing stuff up. But once every four years for four days, we get together and we talk to one another, and we talk to the country, about us.

And especially after a long primary, especially after the last eight years, especially after the long and painful fight that was the last time we tried to elect a Democratic president, after all that, we need to stand up and say what we believe so that we know, know it in our bones.

We knowTeddy Kennedy, being treated for a brain tumor, striding on stage and banging on the podium because he wants the rest of the country to have the care he’s getting, and not one dollar’s worth less.

We know LilyLedbetter, who in the face of discrimination rolled the hard six and told us what we ought to know already, that if we do not receive equal pay for equal work women will never stand equal with men in America.

We knowDennis Kucinich, who took the stage and instead of issuing a tepid endorsement, shouted out a call for us to shift “not from left to right, but from down to up,” to rebuild our country’s jobs and roads and schools and homes with the passion that built them in the first place.

We knowHillary Clinton, who came through the worst of what our society still has to offer women and Democrats, and stood tall and strong and opened her arms to the country, gracious and funny and gloriously brave.

We knowPatrick Murphy, who told us a story about working in Baghdad’s ambush alley, and coming home to find his fellow veterans hurting and homeless, and fighting to change that forever.

And we know a man from Hawaii, a senator from Illinois, a teacher of the law and a student of history, who raised his arms in a football field on Thursday night and called out to the best that is in us, called out over the roar of fault and failure and fall, called out over hatred and despair, and said, as he has said hundreds of times before and as we echo, we can be better, yes we can.

We know hundreds of people now, hundreds and hundreds of people who came here to talk and to write and to work and to march, to network and to protest, to fight for the things they all believe in. We know Diane Watson and Jayneen Allen, Will Preyer and Roy Hightower, Donna VanHook and Pat Sablatura.

We know me. We know you.

We know all of us.

And we know we won’t stop. We won’t back down. We won’t back off. And we won’t back up.

Not. One. Inch.

Denver, 2008


24 thoughts on “Better Still That They Be Sung

  1. Thank you for bringing it home to us so beautifully. I couldn’t be there, but your words put me in Denver, even if just for a short time. It’s good to feel hope again.

  2. Inspiring, A. It was the best political convention I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s hoping for a groundswell of support for change.

  3. Athenae.
    Best fucking writer on the internet.
    Thank you for expressing thoughts & feelings I didn’t even know I had.

  4. And you said you couldn’t write while drunk.
    Srsly, girl, Best. Post. Ever.
    I’m so glad to know you.

  5. You know, I ran out of superlatives in the Crack Van last night, watching Obama inspire and connect and touch and everything that he did.
    I can’t find any now to adequately convey to you how much I enjoyed that piece A.
    You a a damn fine writer. Thanks for being there, and then helping me to be there too.

  6. Fuckin’ a, A – I’m tearing up – at work!
    Can we just give the Koufax Award right now?

  7. Wow.
    I normally feel kind of sheepish posting, but now you make me feel like I don’t belong on the same Internet as you. 🙂

  8. Athenae.
    Best fucking writer on the internet.
    I normally feel kind of sheepish posting, but now you make me feel like I don’t belong on the same Internet as you


  9. This is what you were posting at 2am?
    My god.
    I’m choked up, flattened by emotion.
    Watching Obama speak I was coldly logical, agreeing with most of his points and hoping that he gets the chance to make good on his ideas.
    But this story provides insperation.
    btw – thanks for the Hillary button, it goes well with my two Obama buttons.

  10. I think we need a “Hail Athenae” award or celebration!!! 🙂
    A, you truly have outdone yourself. Has anyone sent this to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann?

  11. Great stuff, A. The convention was great on tevee. It’s a pity that only the political junkies saw the real people segment last night. It was amazing.
    Okay, back to getting ready for Gustav.

  12. That was great. Thank you.
    I love the interviews talking to real people. I needed this kind of story.
    Here is the one I think I will remember and the phrase that will stick in my heart.
    Sixty-one-year-old Donna VanHook’sparty affiliation stems from her attention to what she called “kindness issues,” the social programs that grew out of minority movements in the 1960s, when she grew up. “What I saw in those years is woven into the fabric of me, the importance of being kind and helping people who don’t have as much as we have,” she said. “And in recent years, especially, the Republican Party has a real problem being kind to people in need.”
    Kindness issues. Nice.

  13. Yeah, spocko–I think that needs to become the key phrase of the Democratic agenda for the foreseeable future.
    Democrats = the Kindness party
    Be Excellent To Each Other!

  14. You really captured an important, lost view of the convention. Everyone else was at ceremonies, parties, getting soundbites. Few were really going out and seeing the everyday person.
    Well done. Well written.

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