On Saturday afternoon's CNN broadcast, I listened to a union leader exhort his followers to get behind Obama. His language, replete with deleted expletives, urged them to support Barack. Not voting because of lack of trust, he said, was merely prejudice in disguise and "so much bull-(deleted expletive)!"Having grown up in the mean streets of Pueblo, Colorado's east side, and later living in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Nevada, I came early on to realize the dirty truth that, all too often, what lurks beneath a blue collar is a 'red neck.' I worked two summers at the C. F. & I. Steel Mill, and afterward hung my yellow hard hat conspicuously over my study desk, simply to remind me of the hard labor that would await me if I failed in my education!
Now, in this election year 2008, America's tolerance, trust, and reason all run headlong into the fray against silent, ignorant misperception and deftly veiled racial bigotry. That union official might as well have said, as did a character on Saturday Night Live later that evening: "That dog don't hunt in Alaska" - or anywhere else! My friends, we've got to break this particular "code!" At Obama's Colorado State Fair Rodeo Arena appearance in Pueblo, wearing my volunteer badge, I handed out dozens of absentee ballots and Obama volunteer forms. So many that I couldn't possibly keep count. For every person who volunteered, there were a dozen with the form already filled out! Such grassroots activism has not been seen in this country since the Viet Nam era. Forces clearly were mobilized in heretofore unheard of numbers in the most significant American civil battle to date. Make no mistake; it is a sometimes violently emotional conflict!
Once I gained entry into the arena, I ran into my old friend, Dan Corsentino, a Republican past-Sheriff of Pueblo County. He now works for national security. Dan and I chatted, and he asked, "What do you think of this guy?"
I told him that, barring a ghost writer, his book, "The Audacity of Hope" convinced me that he will be the most eloquent and powerful orator to occupy the White House since J.F.K. I said, "Look at him. Neither now nor at the convention has he spoken on script. To me he seems a real phenom." Dan agreed he was pretty impressive. He asked if I thought a black man was electable. And I responded that this one certainly had the potential. It's just a matter of how color blind our nation has become, if at all.
The discussion drifted to matters of national security, and I related that I had lost my passport, and was trying to find it. I also said that, shortly after the Lockerby plane bombing, I took a puddle-jumper flight from Newport News, Virginia to Washington D.C. Having a deep tan and beard, with my common Mediterranean features, they searched all my luggage, carry-on and pockets. I suppose in retrospect I was lucky to escape a cavity search! Clearly I had been "profiled" as Arabic. Dan said, "Well then, you'd better find that passport - you don't know whose hands it could fall into!"
I reiterated that Obama spoke with excellence, even ex tempore. Dan recalled that I had presided over the Colorado State High School Model United Nations in Pueblo way back in 1969. I'd months ago told him that when he decided to run for office again, I'd gladly serve as a speech writer, crossing party lines. He agreed, but when I said he should face Pueblo reality and change to Democrat, he demurred, saying he felt it would be 'waffling.'
Many friends like Dan have asked why I'd never become a lawyer as I originally intended? Believe me, my mother very much rues my flight onto the stage and the world of entertainment from libraries of law tomes. With my 598 (94th percentile) Verbal and 673 (99th percentile) Math S.A.T. scores, my aptitude was no problem. I tell my lawyer friends that, if I had known better at the time I would have sited my degree of triple distinction in the National Forensic League and gone to any University I'd wanted.
Excuse me now, for I thought to only excerpt from the following speech by Abraham Lincoln, but in our current political and international climate, like the 1860s Civil War, as well as the late 1960s and early 1970s Viet Nam, we also live in abhorrently frightening times of change and upheaval, reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. The more I re-read it, the more apt every word seemed:
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.Make no mistake, we are again engaged in conflict like that of Lincoln's times. Our soldiers die by the thousands in the questionable, prolonged war in Iraq, and against terrorism in Afghanistan. The death toll ever mounts. The deficit in the hundreds of billions of dollars is owed precisely because of all this expensive, seemingly endless bloodshed.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
It seems that presently our nation's in straits similar to that of the Civil War and its aftermath, threatened from both within and without. Terrorism lurks in every corner of the globe, and the ragged state of the union seems to hang upon the edge of an abyss, unable to correct its market, reluctant to take by the horns modern demons which beset us. Our God-given civil liberties also seem no longer a right - but a luxury to be exercised with great discretion and some reluctance.
Obama continues to speak of "the change we need." He sited the need for reform of financial institutions, a health care system in disrepair and unavailable to far too many Americans, an educational void needing badly to be wisely filled, and went on about the state of the economy, not knowing that a few weeks later would come a near crash of our stock market reminiscent of the "Black Friday of 1929."
I got a lot of photographs of him, but sorely missed my 35 millimeter camera equipment, with its long distance zoom lens.
Back to the near present Saturday night... On S.N.L., there followed the usual pimping of Sarah Palin with an uncanny look-alike. Funny yes, but it was the humorous allusion to the press growing "a set of them" ("cojones" we call them in the southwest) by the actress portraying Hillary Clinton that sparked my greatest laughter.
But no matter the funniness, later on CNN the talking heads got back to the subjects of race, the economy, and electability. Let's face it: unless America's proclivity for racial prejudice, masquerading as doubting distrust, is overcome, the very deserving Senator Obama may be denied the Martin Luther King Jr. dream. Our love affair with that will become, in effect, coitus interruptus come November fourth.
Saturday Night Live displayed a microcosm that reflected back into the national mirror of television our American macrocosmic self image. We've become disillusioned, and our threshold for economic and political pain is at an all time low.
CNN talking heads went on to the issues the education, debt, interest rates, the stock market, and mortgage crises. I'm bearing the burden of such a mortgage, longing to refinance it at a lower interest rate, as I attempt to reassemble my life. No stranger to these issues, I can tell you firsthand what it was like in the Reagan era to teach Theatre on the college level at Christopher Newport College in Newport News, Virginia. College freshmen simply could not accomplish the simple task of ably reviewing a live theatre production. I had to devote at least two class periods each semester in the Introduction to Theatre class to remedial English composition.
As for money, my x-wife and I were heavily burdened by debt and I warned her we were living far beyond our means in a larger house than we needed. Reagan, with typical "Great Communicator," unintentional comedic candor, told us "Just pull yourselves up by your bootstraps!" We had no such leather safety straps! There ensued a bankruptcy, followed closely by divorce and the effective end of my college teaching career, because the President of the College, John Anderson, colluded with the Theatre chairman, Bruno Koch, to defy the clear majority of Arts and Communication faculty positive recommendations and student evaluations. Even the powerful Committee for Hiring, Retention and Tenure was ignored.
Due process? I was allowed none. My right of free speech and that of my protesting students were ignored. With the non-renewal of my contract, I was effectively silenced, and my career put on a 'black list' as though I were a purported Communist in the 1950s. Two college Vice Presidents, with no expertise in Theatre and Art had reviewed my portfolio. None of it made any sense, and thereafter I could only work profitably as a free lance professional. It seemed that my marriage and my career were incompatible as my X passive-aggressively muddled along, passing up deadlines for acceptance of positions doubling our then salaries. Carnegie Mellon rated me sixth of ten candidates. Nearly the same portfolio - minus only a few productions at C.N.C. and the College of William and Mary, when I exited Graduate School at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, had earned me an offer of a 'free ride' to Yale University with an apprenticeship to Ming Cho Li, the finest Broadway designer of the 1980s. I refused it in favor of teaching and my marriage.
I relate all this because I know that many of you others have endured similar financial and health issues over the past three decades as have I.
I return to Lincoln - this time in his second Inaugural address, because, as sang Bob Dylan, as I realize, "the times again, they are a changing." And change, albeit necessary, is frequently traumatic, such that Lincoln veritably speaks once again for all of us now:
"Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
I've had little recourse, until this election, to effectively speak out on these issues. I had been crippled by pain and multiple spinal surgeries, falling ever further into debt.
However, let's come back to the scurrilous "code." With it still extant, and I coming from the performing arts, I recall vividly the movie "Remember the Titans." Having lived near and often visited the Arlington, Virginia area in which it is set, I recall the prejudices of the era. Like the black football players in that cinematic opus, Obama stakes rightful claim to the gold at the end of the rainbow of the back American dream. In fact, Barack clearly seems determined to grab the torch with its eternally burning flame as it is passed from the Kennedys down to the next generation.
Why not Camelot again? Need the king of that mythical era be white?!
It's time that this infernal "code" criminally shackling the consciences of too many Americans be not just broken, but shattered! Then, and only then, can this nation proceed, with prudence, due wisdom, and rightly calculated forethought, and malice toward none, securely into the second decade of this second millennium.
So, let's do it at the polls. Let the electoral numbers be tabulated, so that freedom may again ring! Let's expose and abolish the infernal, malicious "code" as surely as Lincoln did slavery by his Emancipation Proclamation!