Friday, January 4, 2008

Celebration and Reflection...

As we celebrate Obama's historic victory in Iowa, I'm moved to reflect on the prophetic life-story of a woman I consider to be the original champion of change…the person who embodied all of the HOPE and PROMISE that Obama now wields even before Obama had completed middle school.

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman to serve in the United States Congress. Four years later she ran for president, winning 152 delegates before she withdrew. Like Obama and Hillary, she championed the cause of the poor, lamented the failing health care system, and spoke in strong opposition to a war many American's felt was unjustified. Unlike Obama or Hillary, however, Shirley Chisholm championed change despite the double-handicap (politically) of being BOTH black AND a woman. Chisholm believed that America could move beyond its imperfect past and vote for someone other than a white man.

Ms. Chisholm obviously never became president of the United States, yet, despite her defeat and in light of her radical challenge to the political status quo, she maintained her belief in America's potential.

In one of her most famous speeches following her defeat, Chisholm declared , "I don't measure America by its achievement but by its potential." Few would dispute that America has yet to achieve its promise of "equality for all" but tonight a major step has been taken towards achieving that goal.

As Obama supporters, we have often been labeled naïve and blindly optimistic. We have been encouraged to focus on the "realities" of our time and reminded of this country's history of race and gender discrimination.

Well today I hope each of you has been emboldened to – like Shirley Chisholm – focus on America's potential and not it's "achievements."

Putting Obama in the White House will NOT erase racism nor will it necessarily change the lives the marginalized and voiceless in this country. Obama will not be a perfect president nor will he come through on all his promises, but, as he has done from the beginning, Obama will inspire. And we've seen tonight what happens when people are inspired to act.

I want to leave you with these words from the woman who, once again, embodied the best of what Obama (and in many ways Hillary) has to offer. Asked about America's readiness for a black, female president, Mrs. Chisholm remarked:

"The United States was said not to be ready to elect a Catholic to the Presidency when Al Smith ran in the 1920's. But Smith's nomination may have helped pave the way for the successful campaign John F. Kennedy waged in 1960. Who can tell? What I hope most is that now there will be others who will feel themselves as capable of running for high political office as any wealthy, good-looking white male."

Mrs. Chisholm's HOPE has been made real tonight family. Go OBAMA!