Obama (Girls) WOMEN...
Obama (Girls) WOMEN...
Mondays are usually pretty low key—spent recovering from the weekend and easing back into the groove (not that we have actual weekends these days. Every day is a work day when we've got projects going and deadlines looming, but hey, it's OK—we chose this gig and we're not whining.) But this past Monday we got our groove on with Barack on Broadway, a fund raiser for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The opportunity to attend came to us at the last minute and of course, we jumped on it. When we had a character in Far From the Tree say "You never know what a day will bring," we had no idea how many times we would have cause to echo that phrase in our own lives. And Monday was definitely one of those days.
Now, in a lot of ways presidential campaigns can seem like an endless reality show—American Idol meets The Last Comic Standing in The Amazing Race and the winner gets to be on Ultimate Survivor for at least the next 4 years. And there was certainly the show part of the evening—including the opening number, a rousing version of "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray, retro-fitted with Obama lyrics, and readings from great American playwrights by Phylicia Rashad (her sister, Debbie Allen was in the audience), Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Wright, and Tony Kushner. All of it built up to the final act, when Obama took the stage and talked to the crowd. And it really did feel more like talking than a speech—he has a down to earth, totally confident, but self-deprecating sincerity—a little like you can tell he was the smartest kid in the class, but he didn't rub your nose in it— he'd even help you with your homework. Smart is an excellent quality in a president and would be a refreshing change. And twenty minutes later, Barack left the crowd shouting "Fire it up! Ready to Go!" a chant he borrowed from a city council woman who roused a sleepy, less than enthused crowd on a rainy morning in Greenwood, South Carolina—a chant he has now made his slogan, battle cry, call and response, call to arms.
Now being the nosy—uh, we mean inquisitive—types we are, we were hoping for something that felt less stage-y—a moment behind the curtain, where you can see if the wizard is just smoke and mirrors. We got a little of that too, at the VIP reception (We hoped to have pictures of us with the Senator, but haven't been able to secure the digital images --yet.) Have you ever met somebody famous and found them to be the inflatable doll version of whatever they are supposed to be—all hot air and you want to stick a pin in and watch them fly around the room? That was absolutely not the case here. We were introduced and spoke briefly—he asked about our books and we told him a bit about Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, and he sounded genuinely interested, which is a pretty good trick when you've spoken to a ba-zillion people in the last year. We said we were honored to meet him, and that is absolutely true. The reality that a black man is one of the front-runners in a bid for the White House is mind boggling (And yes, we have friends who believe it's still only symbolic—that people say they'll vote for him, but when they go in that booth. . . Well, at least people are listening with the kind of enthusiasm we haven't seen in a very long time. Maybe it's naïve, but Obama said people call him that. He called himself a hope slinger, a hope monger. And what we hope for here is as close to a level playing field as we can get).
But what was even more informative, in terms of getting a grasp on who Obama is, may have been talking with his friend, Hill Harper (currently one of the stars of CSI:New York and a good friend of the friend who invited us) at the reception. Turns out Hill and Obama attended Harvard Law School together. And who knows you better than your friends?
So we asked what it was like when your school buddy and close friend tells you he's running for President of the United States? Hill said, "For me, I've always seen the people I've met in terms of their journey. The people I've know, particularly from Harvard Law were aiming to play on a larger stage. At Barack's core he is the same person he was then. Great basketball player, and someone who wanted to affect change." Hill sees the presidential run as an extension of the work Obama began as a community organizer.
Hill mentioned that they were particularly close back in the day because there was lots of talk about affirmative action, and questions about whether they actually had the chops to be there. Well, they are both Cum Laude graduates and Barack was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review—sounds like that was a resounding answer to any questions or doubts about whether they belonged.
When asked what he wanted people to know about his friend, Barack, Hill said, "How authentic he is—not a trait associated with politicians. You don't necessarily get that from reading the Newsweek article or listening to what others say about him. He's not running for president as an ego trip, he's doing it because he sees it as the next step in his efforts to affect real change, and I want to help him in whatever way I can." That is truly a friend. And it's reassuring to know that someone who is seeking such a powerful position still has trusted friends whom he listens to. The higher you get on the pyramid the easier it is to become arrogant and surround yourself with people who will 'yes' you all day. No matter how high and mighty we get, we still need the people who can tell us what we need to hear.
As for Hill Harper—look for Letters to a Young Sister (June '08), the follow-up to his bestselling and inspiring Letters to a Young Brother. "I got letters from young women who wanted to know where was the book for them." Hill has started an important conversation—we're glad he's keeping it going.
And as for who you will choose come Election Day—we leave that to you. But we urge, implore and BEG you to vote. Seems like some folks count on us not to (like the front-running Republicans—Giuliani, McCain, Thompson and Romney who decided to skip the debate at Morgan State, hosted by Tom Joyner and moderated by Tavis Smiley. The candidates cited prior fund raising commitments. Right. Seems shortsighted—not a good quality in a president) Make your voice heard. It's too important not to. As Obama says in his story of the woman in Greenwood, "It goes to show you how just one voice can change the mood of a room. If one voice can change a room, it can change a city. If it can change a city, it can change a state. If it can change a state, it can change a country. If it can change the country, then it can change the world. So here is my question, are you fired up? Are you ready to go? Let's go change the world."