by Michael Rodning Bash • 11/7/08 • November 4, 2008 is now a part of history. The United States has elected Barack Hussein Obama as this nation’s first African-American President. This campaign and this November 4 have been among the most moving experiences of my life, experiences that will live in my mind until memory fails. And ever since this November 4, I have been struck by the number of people, from friends to pundits, who have voiced their wish that some person close to them “could have lived to see this day.” Such is the significance of this November 4.
November 4 is a special day to me for another reason – it is my father’s birthday. Had my father lived to see this most recent November 4, he would have been 84 years old. In the fourteen years since his death, I have always paused to note the comings and goings of November 4, but this election has caused me to reflect on my father more than most.
This recent campaign brought one Joe from Ohio into the spotlight. My father was sort of another “Joe” from Ohio; not Joe the Plumber, but Joe the Preacher (though he would object to the title). Born across the state line in Indiana, my father came of age and received his calling to the ministry in Ohio. From small town, rural beginnings at a country parish in New Lexington, Ohio, his life came to center on inner city Minneapolis and the lives of urban poor people. In the late 1960’s he walked with the Soul Patrol during the riots on Plymouth Avenue and opened a ‘drop-in’ center in the city’s public housing project. In the early 70’s he helped found a radio station as a voice for the city’s poor and marginalized people. All the while he worked to keep the struggle for civil rights and the plight of poor and oppressed people before the eyes of the Lutheran faith community.
Had he been with us through this election, he would have worked and preached as hard as his body would have allowed. Had he survived watching the ups, downs and bitterness of this last campaign (a good question in and of itself), the election of Barack Obama would have been an unbelievable moment for my father. It would have been the culmination of part of that dream which he shared with so many others. Coming into this election day, I was comforted knowing it was also his birthday – if help can come from the beyond, I knew Dad would be there for us.
In reality, though, I knew this one was up to us. And so, on this November 4, I laced up my walking shoes and pounded the pavement, knocking on doors, getting out the vote. This November 4 I also witnessed the tremendous energy of a younger generation, engaged and passionate about the future of our country. In my walking I was fortunate to spend a good part of the day with a woman in her mid-twenties who had never before been involved in the political process. Yet, somehow, this campaign had motivated her to volunteer; coming into this November 4 she had already spent days canvassing, knocking on doors and working to elect Barack Obama.
Writing about the younger generation’s involvement in the Obama campaign, another young woman has said: “Obama would not be here were it not for the thousands who took to the streets for civil rights, and I would not be able to vote for him were it not for feminists who fought for my rights.” She goes on to say that my generation (the older one now) sometimes doesn’t understand her generation. “What they don’t realize is that they just can’t see what we’re doing with all our ‘getting around’ because we’re standing on their shoulders.”
The younger generation stands on ours just as we stand on the shoulders of our parents, who stand on the shoulders of theirs and on back through the years.
Ultimately this election stands on some very broad shoulders – it stands on the shoulders of Africans brought as slaves to this continent, enduring the lash and refusing to relinquish their humanity; it stands on the shoulders of Quakers who opened the first schools for freed slaves in the South, enduring threats from the KKK; on the shoulders of suffragettes, chained to the White House fence insisting on the rights of women; the shoulders of labor organizers and striking workers, gunned down in Ludlow, Colorado and beaten in the streets of Minneapolis; it stands on the shoulders of all those who marched and fought against segregation at the lunch counter and the ballot box; all the way to the shoulders of Joe the Preacher in North Minneapolis, where my feet are rested, too.
Facing us today we have challenges and struggles aplenty, and their ultimate resolution will likely come, if at all, long after my generation has passed. The question I ask is this: will our shoulders be broad enough and strong enough to give the coming generations a place to stand?
Michael Rodning Bash © 2008