Archive for September, 2012

16 September, 2012

Why I Campaign for Barack Obama

There are people in my own house who wonder where my loyalties lie with regard to Barack Obama. Oh, so do you like him? they ask.

I remember, back in the day, feeling sick when I had to vote for John It-Could-Be-Worse Kerry over Bush. My candidate was Dean at the time. By contrast, I had no reservations about campaigning for Senator Obama, and unshakable faith that he would win. But I am not someone whose loyalty is blind. Indeed, despite my own euphoria over his win, the words I wrote on the eve of the inauguration were painful to articulate but I wrote them anyway because they needed to be said. The fact is that the president-elect on the eve of his inauguration foretold what he would do three years and nine months later at the United Nations, and once again I could not remainsilent.

As a global citizen, I can see the many ways in which this president disappointed and for more reasons than I can go into here, it is clear as daylight that Hillary Clinton’s management of the State Department has been disastrous. I would willingly place the blame at her feet except for that tiny business of someone else being her boss. And yet as an American citizen I have understood the significance of Barack Obama’s commitment to progress on issues that matter deeply to me: the repealing of DADT is just the tip of the iceberg in that regard. As a pragmatist I realize that an American public that is starving and sick and depleted of hope spells doom for the rest of the world of a magnitude we have not seen yet. And so I understand the focus the president has had on setting the affairs of his own house in order before trying to do much better for the world even as I grieve alongside that world for the continuation of the me-first policies of the United States.

People, friends, those not paying serious attention, are happy to trot out the monstrous lies of the right with regard to the president’s record on domestic policy. To those who only have a quick minute I simply say, check out What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far? It is illuminating. Here are a few:

Health Care Reform Bill, preventing insurance companies from denying insurance because of a pre-existing condition,
Added 4.6 billion USD to the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health professionals
Significantly expanded Pell grants, which help low-income students pay for college
Extended Benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees
Reversed ‘global gag rule’, allowing US aid to go to organizations regardless of whether they provide abortions
Provided travel expenses to families of fallen soldiers to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB

These are not small things. And they would never happen under a Republican administration. It is as simple as that. Barack Obama is no saviour of the world, certainly not yet. But he is also not the could-be-worse candidate. For those who have the time and the inclination to dig a little deeper, and are of the writerly bent, I ask that they check out McSweeney’s brilliant effort, begun 90 days out before the elections, and titled, 90 Days 90 Reasons. Here are are few:

#32 Edwidge Danticat – President Obama supports the Dream Act.
#30 Sherman Alexie – Because the Liberal Messiah doesn’t exist.
#03 – Andrew Sean Greer – Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court

We have a damned long way to go before the United States – or the policies and focus of the United States, its culture and position viz-a-viz matters of justice for citizens both American and global – resembles anything close to what we might dream of for ourselves, and for the proverbial seven generations out. But if any president has moved in that direction, it has been Barack Obama. We may all be standing at the beginning of a long and uneasy road, but if he loses this election, we will be standing and searching not just for the road, but for the way to get to the place where we can begin to build that road with our bare hands.

We all heard Michelle Obama speak at the convention about being at a crossroads. She was right. I am off to canvass on this beautiful Fall day.


4 September, 2012

A Ruth Lilly Fellow Reflects

I am over at the Huffington Post talking to Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was named a Ruth Lilly Fellow for 2012. You can read the full interview here. Below, a taste:

RF: You were an avid reader before you went to prison but you became a writer while you were there. As you continue your activism while also writing both poetry and prose, do you find that the narrative of social-justice pervades both forms? Do you ever actively choose to avoid those issues? Or do you feel that everything we have to say, so long as it is about our place in the world, must necessarily comment on the justice or lack thereof within it?

RDB: I think I just write what I’m focusing on, what is troubling me, what I want to think more about. In the past I haven’t tried to confront certain issues with the justice system directly in poetry — write poems that deal with juvenile certification, or the drug trade, etc. Now though, I feel like for the poems to be true to me they have to work those ideas in, because I know to do that, I’ll end up challenging myself as a writer. I’ll end up figuring out how to be poetic and not dogmatic, or how to be both. So many of the decisions that writers make now seem a product of a writing community — I mean seem a product of imagining a writing communities response to that work. I think about this more, how to avoid this and how to write, not necessarily what I want to read, but work that makes people confront real tangible things in the world, as well as the fancy, as well as that personal “I” that’s about so much emotion but so little of the weight of what brings leads a young man to have downcast eyes.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.