I'm a different person than I was before. It used to be the only part of my body which was political was my mouth. I could talk the talk, but walk the walk? Fuhgetaboutit. As I was driving home yesterday, my legs tired from walking through a neighborhood I had never even driven through before, I started wondering when did this change happen, when did I decide to do more, what compelled me to actually get out and participate in the Walk for Obama? I hadn't known it when I drove there in the morning, but by the end of the day I had come to the realization that somewhere between the images of Abu Ghraib and Katrina, something inside of me snapped, something said enough is enough, this is not who we are as Americans, this is not who I am as a person.
Early on during yesterday's walk we encountered a middle-aged African-American man, Malcolm, loading lawnmowers into his van. He didn't live in the neighborhood, only worked there, but that didn't stop Kimberly, the very attractive black actress of our group, from striking up a conversation. And like most men I'm sure, even if he didn't want to get into a political conversation, and Malcolm didn't, when a girl as pretty and as sassy as Kimberly talks to you, you engage. Malcolm knew about Obama but didn't think he would vote for him. As Kimberly pressed him for his reasons, he kept backing up, shyly looking at me, trying to be vague until finally he said clearly "Come on, America isn't going to vote for a black man". I hope you are all for Obama, but even if you're not, it important for all of us Democrats to get out there, sign up new voters, engage our neighbors, and walk the talk.
It was then I suddenly found my feet moving forward and my voice along with it, and said "You mean White America won't vote for him". He wasn't trying to be confrontational and he wasn't, it was just a moment of honesty, and he embarassedly shrugged his shoulders. And the next thing I knew I was telling myself just as much as I was telling him and Kimberly and the rest of my group, "Well this is one White American who's going to vote for him, as is the rest of my family and most of my friends, because the simple truth is I wasn't raised to be a racist, that's not what my Parents taught us growing up, that's not what I have taught my children. That's not who we are as people, just as much as who we are as Americans is not putting prisoners on dog leashes and torturing them and turning our backs on poor people down South. That's not who we are. We have all been taught that America is supposed to mean something, haven't we?"
I'm sure he was surprised a stranger would talk to him with such emotion, just as much as I was surprised I would be that stranger. He stepped back and looked us over - a native Californian hispanic girl in her early 20's, a knock-out black girl from East Coast, and a 50's something white guy from the suburbs, and suddenly he started laughing and said "Okay, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. Maybe so."
The rest of the day was easy. The two girls took the lead in most of the conversations, I hung back and mostly offered up details about policy or helped fill out the registration cards of the new voters we managed to talk into believing their vote could matter. By the end of the day we all came back to base camp hungry, tired, and exhilirated by our first experience of direct democracy. But I also came to the realization that I walked for Obama not just because I feel he is the most qualified person for the job, which I do, and not just because I feel electing a black man President would go along way in saying to the rest of the world, and even ourselves, that we are not a Nation of hypocrites, that we take to heart the ideal of equality, which I do.
No, the reason I walked yesterday was because of what Barack has said about our empathy deficit, how it is important "to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us". I've lived 27 years in Los Angeles and spent yesterday in a neighborhood I had never been in. I saw people, heard stories I had never heard before. That all was important. But also I opened myself to them, they saw someone they had never seen before, and that was just as important. I can't stress enough the value of that experience, of taking your politics and what you think is important out into the streets.