This post is a departure from my usual content. Come back in a few days for a post on transmedia and my thoughts on the journey of words and images we are on. I’m sharing this because I feel strongly about the upcoming election and have been very frustrated with the level of dialogue in the shared public conversation. Everyone’s touchy, everyone’s upset, everyone’s angry. On Monday I had an experience that helped me to think about where we are as a nation, and gave me a sense of hope and community. It was also an experience of stellar storytelling. This is a modified version of an email I sent to my family Monday evening.
Today I had a truly remarkable experience when I attended a fundraiser for our Senator Patty Murray who is in a close race with a spectacularly ill-equipped Republican, Dino Rossi, who has run for office three times and lost. He is of the “no government is good government” persuasion and I wouldn’t buy a used car from him, much less entrust my future to him. Washington also has a Democratic woman, Suzan DelBene, running against the incumbent, Dave Reichert, whose abilities have not improved since a branch fell on his head in August. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama appeared at the luncheon in Bellevue.
Feeling a little guilty to be skipping out on work, I went with my friend Jackie, joining two tables of Friends of Nancy Rawles. There was a long line to get past security and we came into the room when Governor Gregoire was rousing the faithful to get out the vote. It was fun to be in the room with an all-female political contingent in this, the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, and really nice to be at a table of friends, some of whom I knew and some of whom I just knew to be Nancy’s friends. Half our table was made up of teens – an inspiring group to be in attendance.
We heard Patty speak, very eloquently, of her family, her Dad who was a veteran and had multiple sclerosis, and the seven children who all, because of her parents’ determination and the model they represented, graduated from college. This was about the time during the luncheon that the themes of the day emerged: family, education and personal story. Patty referred to Washington state as her family and evoked her famous identity, a soccer mom in tennis shoes, but this time the tale was more personal, more detailed. Beyond the affirmation of jobs for the state and support of local business (Boeing, Microsoft) there was the theme of our children and their future, of the veterans and their families, of education and its crucial role in the future of America.
Jill Biden spoke next. I had never heard her speak, even on television. She teaches at a community college in Washington DC and had been working as “second lady” on support for and funding of community colleges, support of military families and seeking a cure for breast cancer. She was eloquent. She talked about Joe, who of course had a working class childhood and struggled to achieve what he has in life, of her sense that fate had brought her together with Michelle Obama to do the work they have undertaken on behalf of America’s children and families, and of her life as an educator. I had the palpable sense of the responsibility felt, the press of time and the great need. She introduced Michelle who came on to Marvin Gaye and hand clapping – a whole song. There was a crowd of 1,400, a sea of tables under baubled chandeliers.
Now, Patty Murray is a petite but tough woman. She has a cap of blonde hair and a rounded face. She wears glasses and she looks like a soccer mom – or by this time a soccer grandma. Especially standing next to Patty, Michelle Obama is a remarkably tall woman. You see her and you think: statuesque. She is very much collected within herself and yet still projects a sense of humor, a sense of fun and something like ferocity in her intellect and vision. She is larger than life. She filled the stage all by herself. I could see her from the side, between enormous speakers rigged to deliver the speeches to the crowd, as long as she didn’t lean forward. Luckily there were huge video screens.
She told a story that was brilliant in its simplicity, remarkable for its clarity and narrative flow, and supremely personal. She talked about how she hasn’t been accustomed of late to the campaign trail because she has been dedicated to being sure that her daughters are adjusting to the strange and remarkable life they now have in the White House, and that her children are the center of and inform her world. Of how when she and Barack were on the stump they heard from people all across the country what she is hearing now: that people are hurting, that they are afraid, that they are worried – about security, keeping their house, paying for school, keeping their families safe. She talked about her own family, about her dad who, like Patty’s dad, had multiple sclerosis and who got up every day no matter how tired and went to work so that his kids could have the opportunities he did not. She talked about the people who elected her husband because he promised change, and how some of them weren’t listening when he told them that change was hard, that change took time. She acknowledged that some of those people didn’t think change had happened fast enough, or that where change had happened, it had not helped their situation.
Then she talked about the things that the administration has accomplished: the banks (and the economy) saved from collapse and the protections on accountability that have been enacted; the historic investment in community colleges and the measures taken to ensure that banks who are in the business of lending are not profiting as much from those loans, putting more money into the hands of students; the research, including stem cell research, that will contribute to cures for illness and disease; the legislation ensuring the rights of soldiers and their families. Remember the first bill signed by the President after he entered office? Legislation to ensure that our daughters will receive equal pay for equal work. She spoke of Barack’s mother who, in her final months of life was forced to spend her time fighting with her insurance provider instead of taking stock and spending time with her family, and how no one should have to spend the end of their life in that way. She spoke of health care and the security recent health care reform allows for mothers seeking pre-natal care, for people buying insurance who will no longer be turned down because of a pre-existing condition. “It’s been a year and a half,” she said. Change takes time.
Throughout, she stressed the story of the parents and families who work hard to do what is right, to do what should ensure their security and opportunity for their family and who are unsure whether it will be enough to secure the simple things everyone should have: a job, a home, health care. We were reminded that this is what we all have in common and that this is why we worked so hard on the Presidential campaign. It’s what unites us all, this desire for home and family and for making the world better for our children. This is the work of the election, this is what’s at stake – the ability to continue the work that has been started, the very world our children will live in. Then she reminded us that during the last campaign she had said that if she was going to give us her husband then we had better have his back. I took this to mean not only knocking on doors and making phone calls but keeping the faith, that – however imperfect – the change we need is coming along, being nurtured.
I wept. It was awesome. I don’t know what I had expected – maybe speeches I’d heard before but in a more glamorous setting. I did not expect the emotion and verity of the moment, the sense of community, of purpose and of actual hope. I have been discouraged of late I realized. Every bit of political discussion is parsed and measured and projected and cynically calculated, when the things at the center of the moment have nothing to do with that process, but are matters of the heart and of the hearth, of our community and of ourselves.
Outside we waited to cross the street in a blustering wind, police directing traffic against the lights. More police on motorcycles rounded the end of the block and the SUV’s with tinted windows followed along on their way to the next, more deeply moneyed, gathering on the shores of Lake Washington. We stood and waved, and to every car I shouted “thank you”. And thank you. And thank you. And I felt so much better and very clear.