As expected, it was a bittersweet Thanksgiving this year, as it was the first since my grandmother passed away last January after a long battle with endometrial cancer.
My grandmother was a lifelong activist, and a bleeding heart liberal in the truest sense of the term. She couldn't stand to see anyone get hurt (she couldn't stand to watch violent movies, or even football), and she was the warmest, most caring person I ever knew. She was a liberal because she cared about people, detested suffering, and believed that everyone deserved a fair chance in life.
Her political activism began when she was in college at UCLA, when she volunteered as a tester for a fair housing organization to help expose illegal discrimination. If a black family inquired about an apartment or house and was told it was taken, my grandmother, who was white, would then go to inquire if it was still available to see if she got a different response. Earl Warren was the Republican governor of California at the time, and her organization protested some of his policies. Later, after he turned out to be such a great Supreme Court justice, my grandfather liked to tease that she had protested Earl Warren.
I don't know all of the details, but I know that she was active in other ways in the civil rights movement, including attending the 1963 March on Washington. She was also very active with the anti-war movements, participating in anti-Iraq War demonstrations well into her 70's.
In April of 2008, I drove up to Philadelphia from DC most weekends to campaign for Obama in the PA primary. One day, my grandmother joined me, and we went to see Obama speak at a train station in the Philly suburbs and then went canvassing for him in a nearby neighborhood.
She had just been diagnosed with cancer at the time, and I remember thinking that no matter what happened, I was glad to have the chance to spend that day with her. Until then, I had never really thought about spending time with her that way. Even though she was 78, she and Grandpa had taken such good care of themselves that I thought they both had a long time ahead of them.
I noticed that she was walking slower and had less stamina than she had had four years earlier when we campaigned for Howard Dean together. But she was still as committed to the progressive cause as ever, and at one point, she got teary-eyed, saying that she never thought she would see a serious African American candidate for president in her lifetime.
I have been missing her a lot since she died, but since the election I have felt her loss even more. But I am so grateful that she lived long enough to see President Obama's first election in 2008. In a way, it feels like she got to see the fruition of her labor in the civil rights movement, more than she ever anticipated could happen in her lifetime.
I'm grateful for all the time I spent with her in my life, but I am especially grateful for that day in April 2008, when I felt like I was joining the next phase of the long battle for civil rights that she had been part of since she was my age. I believe I got my activist spirit from her, and now that she is no longer with us, it's up to me to carry on the good fight.