28 October 2008

Three Ashleys and the Transformation of a Nation

As if the comparison needs to be clearer, Sean Quinn from fivethirtyeight.com traces the story of three Ashleys from three Presidential campaigns. There is Ashley Faulkner who said of Bush in 2004, "He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK." Then there is Ashley Todd, the source of the B-carving Obama supporter hoax. Finally, there is Ashley Baia whom Obama talked about in his More Perfect Union speech on race in early 2008. Quoting directly from the speech, via the 538 post (I encourage you to read it in its entirety):

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
This historic moment, this watershed in American history is perhaps difficult to comprehend while living it. We're distracted by out daily routines and the disruptions to them. It is worthwhile, however, to step back and attempt to appreciate the moment that we are all living.

I'm proud to have been a supporter of this campaign for the past two years. I consider my small contributions to be an investment in that more perfect union. Perhaps I've passed a few too many hours following the twist and turns of the campaign in obsessive detail but I cannot help but be fascinated by our present reality.

The deal remains to be closed by I have nothing but confidence in the cool professionalism of the Obama campaign's ability to do so. Eight more days, only eight more days until we begin the trasformation away from the past eight years.

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