although perhaps not in the sense that some may expect. I cannot help that. As I write this, 2 days before Christmas and one day before the historic vote in the Senate, I am in a somewhat reflective mood, fed in part by jotter, or rather, his daily listing of diaries. Jotter includes top ten lists from the previous two years ago, and that led to my rereading two things I have written in the past few years.
Two years ago today I wrote It’s not the stuff of which dreams are made. in which I explored how the dream of generations of most Americans that their children would live better than they did was being - or already was - lost. That is almost a year before the final financial meltdown of 2008. And in rereading the diary and the comments, I encountered a reference to one of the more cogent diaries I have written, Teaching is my essential political action. Rereading those two diaries, at the same time as I am reading David Plouffe's The Audacity to Win cause me to step back and reflect. This diary is the product of that reflection.
I recently received a phone call from a top aide to a Virginia elected public official who wondered about how many formerly important voices in the Virginia progressive blogosphere had either gone silent or spoke far less often. We talked about some of the reasons, some of which perhaps overlap with what I have seen here at Daily Kos in the past few months.
There is obvious concern for the future of our nation, some of which is expressed in the form of disappointment with the administration, Senate Democrats, and especially with the President himself. We have seen an escalation of rhetoric towards the targets of our frustration and our anger, and sometimes towards one another.
At times it is tempting to say, as some have recently, enough, pack one's keyboard, and move on to other things.
Certainly those of us in Virginia and New Jersey who experienced this fall's devastating election results might be most inclined to take such a course of action.
I find I cannot, for several reasons. Most of all for the reason with which I titled this piece:
This is personal
It is personal to me because I believe in attempting to make a difference. it applies to why I am a teacher, and how I approach my teaching, something explored in part in that piece posted in August of 2007. I wrote then
To me politics is how one moves forward to achieve goals. It involves learning how to work with others. In a democracy it requires reaching out to find sufficient in common to achieve the working majority (or in some cases plurality) necessary to have electoral success for those who support the goals on which you have agreement. It involves understanding people's motivations, and being able to express one's own concerns in a cogent way, in the hopes perhaps of persuading others to come to a similar point of view on how to address problems.
I also wrote this:
There is a Talmudic tale of a man carefully tending an olive tree whose fruit he will never taste. He is asked why he is so careful when he will not benefit, and he points out that his children and his children's children will benefit. I have no biological children. My commitment to a better future that may not occur until long after I pass from this life is a political action on my part. It is a commitment to something broader than my own immediate benefit. It is an understanding that as I have benefited from those who went before me, many of whom have no close biological kinship beyond our common humanity, I have an obligation to attempt to pass on a world no worse off than the one I received. As I had teachers and other adults who challenged me to think more deeply and beyond my own individual needs and desires, I feel obligated to act towards those adolescents in my care with a similar approach.
And not just to those who come in to my physical classroom. My writing is clearly a political action. In my teaching I try to present alternatives, taking upon myself to make sure that should no student be able to present a point of view to which none seem drawn that they at least be able to grasp how something seemingly alien to how they think can have an intellectual consistency and honesty: one basic factor of human existence is that we do not all think and react the same, and thus we need to be able to seek to understand the point of view of the other if we wish to achieve some common ground. I would hope that as I offer my perceptions and arguments on line I similarly demonstrate a willingness to engage in dialog, to explore more fully, so that we can find common ground where possible, and where unable to do so not fall into permanent disagreement.
I am far from without fault. Had I any doubt, my wonderful wife would be sure that I remembered, for which I am grateful. She helps keep me grounded.
So do the students in my care, present, and former. This is hard time of year for me, especially with the snow closures, going 16 days without direct contact except for the few who choose to stay in touch via email.
This is personal because each individual student is part of what I leave behind as my legacy. Having no biological children, this is increasingly important for me.
This is personal because I want the world to be a better place because of my presence. Perhaps two years ago I wondered if that aspect of the American dream of wanting a better future was being lost. I may still have doubts, but cannot allow them to discourage me, to dissuade me from doing what I think important.
This is personal because I truly believe in answering that of God in each person I encounter, as challenging as that might be. That requires me not to demonize, but to seek to understand, to attempt to find common ground. Two of the people who have had the most profound impact on me, both now dead, were at Haverford people I saw always trying to find something to affirm in those that came to them. Greg Kannerstein served in many capacities, and John Davison was the heart and soul of the music department, himself one of the first (1951) music majors in the history of the College (founded in 1833 with strong Quaker roots). Even in our political disagreements I honestly believe that we need to try as much as possible to find common ground.
This is personal because when I see someone criticized for also trying to find common ground, I feel as if something important to me is being attacked. Thus I remember words spoken in Boston, words of which I would like to remind us all:
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.
If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.
If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
This is personal because I have students with two mothers
This is personal because I have students with no health care
This is personal because I have nieces and nephews who are half black, and half Native American, and half Hispanic
This is personal because I have gay friends and Republican friends and libertarian friends
This is personal because people I respect disagree with one another, sometimes strongly, and I want to love them all, and pray they can love one another
This is personal because I know, for better or worse, what I say and do, how I act and speak, will be used by some as an excuse if I do so unwisely, but can serve as an encouragement if my heart is open and I am willing to be hurt
This is personal because to me there is no human whose actions place them beyond love. If one believes in God, one might say that no one has the power to irrevocably put himself beyond God's mercy and power of redemption, even as each has the freedom to reject love, from God or from the living icons of God that are her fellow humans
This is personal because I see still too much pain and suffering that is well within our power to assuage
This is personal because insofar as the future and hope of others is limited or crushed, so is the future for which I hope
This is personal most of all because I am a teacher.
I will conclude as I did in August of 2007, because the words I wrote then are still relevant to me. They are from a diary that did not get all that much traffic. So be it. It was a diary that as I reread it reminded me of what really matters to me, and why. Perhaps those words may strike something in you, perhaps not. Remember only this - the best kind of teaching for me is sharing, joint learning, joint experience, joint vulnerability. I can say of that kind of teaching and learning
This is personal
I cannot do all that I might want. I lack some skills, and certainly have insufficient time and energy. So I do what is the most important political action I can undertake. I teach in a public school, seeking to empower the future generations in the hope that the democratic republic from which I have benefited for most of my life will still be there long after I die. I can think of nothing more important for me to do. Teaching is my essential political action.
What is yours?