Monday, May 19, 2008

Alice Walker: Build alliances based on Truth

There's an amazing piece by Alice Walker in The Root. Ostensibly it's about Obama vs. Clinton, but it's much more than that.

She begins by painting a picture of what it was like to live on a Georgia plantation (she was born in 1944):

"My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style.

"We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn't pay it to a nigger. That before she'd pay a nigger that much money she'd milk the dairy cows herself."

She then talks about why she supports Obama, and while a lot of what she says swirls in a complex way around race, class and gender. She points out, for instance, that Obama isn't the only one with a "racial heritage"; there are clearly certain benefits to whiteness that are the invisible elephant in the room.

While she would "adore having a woman president,"

"my choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard."

Walker also addresses the differences she has with Obama--indeed, with most American politicians:

"I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life. I want an end to the on-going war immediately and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq."

While she calls the fact that Obama is a clear contender a "miracle we are witnessing," she calls on us to "build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth."

She also offers a kind of pragmatic optimism at the end that speaks to me deeply. She says:

"Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for."