Tag Archives: Election

Who Cares About What They Wear: Choosing Who To Vote For

A lot of important elections have been happening around the world lately, and, as many prepare to vote, it has come to my attention that we spend way too much time looking into things that do not matter at the expense of looking carefully into what does matter.

For example, I was reading about the presidential elections in the United States a couple of months ago, and the first bunch of articles I found had a significant number of paragraphs commenting on such things as the candidates’ outfits, their speaking style, and the way they carried themselves.

Granted, these things tell us a lot about an individual; however, they do not seem as important as the proportion of coverage they were given in the news.  There was little on their policies and approaches to various problems they would have to face should they be elected to the Oval Office, only the usual answers that seem to say a lot without really answering the question.

It makes me wonder…

How did we get here?

One reason I can think of is that we, as a society, have perhaps become so removed and uninvolved from the question of governance that we don’t know how to discuss these issues.  If this is the case, then we can’t fault candidates for not wasting their time and energy explaining their position on various topics and issues more thoroughly; it would be like working on a speech to a little baby for hours at a time when whatever words come out of your mouth will entertain it for hours on end.

Not convinced?  Well, just think about your reality and that of those around you.  Can you have an in-depth conversation about the issues facing your neighborhood, city, region, or country?  Can you describe their reality?  Can you explain why the reality is the way it is?  And can you trace a concrete way out?

If, like most of the people I interviewed for this post, you answered “no”, then neither you nor I can fault either the candidates or the news outlets for reporting the not discussing more in-depth these issues with us.

The way out is, in my opinion, for us to get involved in understanding our local reality and, when issues are identified, contributing to their resolution in a proactive way.  This will yield deeper and deeper understanding on the process of governance which in turn will help us gain an increasing understanding of the issues at hand on an increasingly larger scale.

How to Make the Time to Nurture Deep Friendships while Having the Time to get to Know All Community Members: Some Thoughts

Just a couple of weeks ago, Bahá’í communities around the world elected their national administrative bodies in a unique electoral process.  One of its aspects is, as I personally understand it, that each elector has to make the effort to get to know all the members of one’s community.

I also understand that to build strong communities, we have to take the time to develop strong bonds of friendship, the kind within which we can have frank and honest consultations about our personal reality, the reality of our community, and what we can do to help both ourselves and our community improve.

This is a situation ripe for a dichotomy!  Should you take the time to get to know everyone in your community of a couple hundred individuals?  Or should you take the time to deepen your friendships with those you serve the most closely with?

After all, community-building is dependent on two things: our efforts to better our own selves, and our efforts to better the community.  This is our two-fold moral purpose.  On the one hand, spending a lot of time with the same few people does help us gain unique insight into who we are, which helps us in our pursuit of personal moral excellence.  On the other hand, we can’t build a vibrant community if we do not engage every person that composes it!

The first hint of an answer came to me as I realised that to deepen a friendship doesn’t take as much time as one would think; rather, it takes quality.  One hour-long quality conversation can go a long way, longer than a couple of hours of idle hanging out.

This leads to another glimmering of an answer: we can get to know a lot about our fellow community-members just by participating in community activities.  While we have to be careful not to make assumptions or judgments, we can tell if someone has a consistently listening ear or not within a few hours or quality interactions with them.  The trick here, then, is not just the quality of the interactions, but the efforts that we make to be outward oriented—that is to say, the effort we make to be aware of others during community activities rather than lost in our own thoughts (or checking our phones…)

Another path that seems worthy of pursuit is to take a step back and think about our friendships: why we are engaged in them?  What effects do these friendships have on each person involved?  What effects do these friendships have on others?  Do these friendships bring joy to those inside the relationship as well as those outside it?

In other words: do these friendships help us fulfill our two-fold moral purpose?

It seems to me that to fulfill this purpose, we have to be happy and joyful beings living in happy and joyful communities.  This helps us individually go through the arduous steps of figuring out how we can contribute to the betterment of our communities, as well as helps us as a community figure out what structures and systems are needed to create vibrant communities.

In light of all this, I feel like it’s already easier to decide what to do. Both types of friendships—limited number of close friends and all community members—are important.  But not all friendships help us fulfill our two-fold moral purpose.

One final thought: I feel like any decision about which friendship to pursue and which to let go of that is made based on one’s ego is a wrong decision.  Similarly, any decision based on laziness is also wrong.  But on the flip side, any decision solely based on one’s desire to serve to one’s fullest capacity will be the right one, sometimes in surprising ways.

Eeny-meeny-mino-mo, catch a leader by the toe…

It’s election season in North America! Just like Thanksgiving, Canada went first, and soon the US will follow. These elections are being touted as being of particular importance; after watching the markets go up and down in the last couple of weeks, I have come to the brilliantly original conclusion that it’s because things aren’t going too well nowadays.

Ah, the superficial intelligence of a blogger faking her way into intellectual circles.

As we anxiously watch the economy wheeze its way through day after day, always expecting the worse and, unfortunately, getting it, some are filled with despair and others are bolstered into action. This is the context in which both North American countries are placing such importance on this year’s elections.

But although voting is a precious right denied to many for too long, the youth of North America seem to take it for granted. And so, special effort has been made to increase youth awareness and participation.

After being ignored for too long, I find it exciting that voting is becoming the cause célèbre of celebrities. For once, I’m happy I don’t have a reason to make fun of them (although I hope this doesn’t last too long, I do need *something* to amused me).

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, some of the younger celebrities in the United States have been taking a stance on voting. While in itself, casting a vote isn’t enough, it’s a great beginning for people to feel involved in the affairs of the country.

And it seems that the good old tool that is humour is leading the way. On the one hand, we have examples such as the fake commercial Jessica Alba and Hayden Pannetière did together about a new product called The Muzzler.

And a team of celebrities – young and less young – have gotten together to urge people not to vote. Yes, you read that right – they want them not to vote. It’s the second trick up their sleeve as celebrities are using reverse psychology – and I find it quite effective. The TV version is a lot shorter, but I couldn’t find it, so here is the long version.

If you are tickled by this video, you should really go on YouTube, find the various versions of the video posted above and read the comments from viewers. It’s quite interesting to see the range of reactions from people from all over the world. While some like the way the message is presented, others have taken it as a personal insult. The debate was getting so intense that some users have disabled the comment board.

Are these campaigns going to help? Are celebrities – most of whom seem to be content in lending their voice and giving money and don’t often engage themselves in systematic action against the problems afflicting society – really going to make a difference?

And the question begs to be asked… What kind of a society do we live in that it takes the voice of movie stars, TV stars and rock stars to make our youth vote? Shouldn’t the concept of civic participation be enough? How did we get to this point in the first place?

PS: Here is a lovely little Rock the Vote clip by Christina Aguilera.

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 19 October 2008.

IHT: Obama moves America beyond racial politics

It’s a good think I have already worked on my NaNoWrimo08 post for today, because I am not able to stay away from surfing the Net and reading endless number of articles on – what else – yesterday’s election!

Here is another one that I love:

Obama moves America beyond racial politics

By Rachel L. Swarns

Published November 5, 2008

WASHINGTON: Even during the darkest hours of his presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois held on to his improbable, unshakable conviction that America was ready to step across the color line.

On Tuesday, America leaped.

Millions of voters — white and black, Hispanic and Asian, biracial and multiracial — put their faith and the future of their country into the hands of a 47-year-old black man who made history both because of his race and in spite of it.

African-Americans wept and danced in the streets on Tuesday night, declaring that a once-reluctant nation had finally lived up to its democratic promise. Strangers of all colors exulted in small towns and big cities. And white voters marveled at what they had wrought in turning a page on the country’s bitter racial history.

“It brought tears to my eyes to see the lines,” said Bob Haskins, a black maintenance worker at an Atlanta church, where scores of college students voted on Tuesday. “For these young folks, this is a calling. Everything that Martin Luther King talked about is coming true  today.”

Tobey Benas, a retired teacher who voted for Obama in Chicago, also savored the moment: “I can’t believe how far we’ve come,” said Benas, who is white. “This goes very deep for me.”

In a country long divided, Obama had a singular appeal: He is biracial and Ivy League educated; a stirring speaker who shoots hoops and quotes the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; a politician who grooves to the rapper Jay-Z and loves the lyricism of the cellist Yo Yo Ma; a man of remarkable control and startling boldness.

He was also something completely new: an African-American presidential candidate without a race-based agenda. And his message of unity and his promise of a new way of thinking seemed to inspire — or least offer some reassurance — to a country staggered by two wars, a convulsing economy and sometimes bewildering global change.

Americans, of course, have not suddenly become colorblind or forgotten old wounds. But millions of white citizens clearly decided Obama was preferable to the alternative, even if some had to swallow hard when they walked into the voting booth.

“In difficult economic times, people find the price of prejudice is just a little bit too high,” said Governor Michael Easley of North Carolina, a white Democrat. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t care what your race is. If you can make things better, we’re for you.’ “

Easley said he knew big changes were coming when he passed a pickup on the road a few weeks ago. The white driver, who looked like he had been hunting, was wearing camouflage apparel and had a gun rack in his truck. Easley said he was sure he was looking at a McCain supporter — until he saw the Obama stickers plastered on the door.

“I thought to myself, ‘We might be winning now,’ ” Easley said. “We could cross that chasm, we could cross the Rubicon this time.”

Confident in the country’s ability to move beyond racial politics, Obama had his finger on the pulse of a nation in transition.

Day by day, year by year, racial tensions have eased as black and white classmates giggle over scribbled notes, co-workers gossip over cups of coffee, predominantly white audiences bond with Oprah and people have grown accustomed to black executives on Wall Street, black movie stars in Hollywood and black cabinet secretaries in the Oval Office.

Still, the fact that Americans would be willing, at last, to elect a black president stunned many scholars, politicians and advocates for civil rights. They remain keenly aware of the nation’s record of denying black aspirations — from the time African slaves were forced to these shores nearly 400 years ago, to the broken promises of Reconstruction, to the bloody resistance to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, to the last lynching of a black man in 1981.

“The history of the country is such that you wonder when, if ever, certain things will ever happen,” said Representative James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who is 68. “You sit down and you say, ‘How did the Lord allow me to be a part of all this? Why not my mother and father or their parents? Why me?’ “

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar of African-American history, said that the election rivaled the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the day 101 years later when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Then Gates declared, “There’s never been a moment like this in our lifetime, ever.”

For older blacks, Obama’s victory was particularly momentous. They marveled as they compared the scenes of white policemen beating black marchers in the 1960s to those from this year’s campaign rallies where thousands of white people waved American flags and chanted, “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!”

Richard Hatcher, who became one of the nation’s first black mayors when he was elected in 1967 to lead Gary, Indiana, said he believed the election would reshape the perceptions that blacks and whites have of each other.

“That’s the great hope,” Hatcher said. “We do not have to be absolutely obsessed with the issue of race anymore. There’s no reason why the vision of America cannot be real.”

A century or so ago, such optimism was unthinkable. Before the Civil War, only two black people — a justice of the peace and a township clerk — had managed to get elected to public office in the entire country.

The prospects for black politicians were so dim that Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist, when asked what he might do as president, dismissed the question as absurd, saying, “No such contingency has even one chance in 60 million to be realized.”

After black men won the right to vote in 1870, they sent 23 African-Americans to Congress over the next three decades. But by 1901, when the last black lawmaker of that era left Capitol Hill, Southern whites had disenfranchised blacks, using, among other devices, the poll tax, intimidation and violence.

By the time Obama announced his White House bid last year, though, white voters had elected black members of Congress, state legislators, mayors, even governors. This year, 70 percent of white adults surveyed in a New York Times/CBS News poll said the United States was ready to elect a black president.

Still, most of the political establishment — black and white — thought that Obama had no chance. Previous black presidential candidates had never drawn significant white votes. And Obama, only the third black lawmaker ever elected to the Senate, had an unusual biography — a white mother from Kansas, black father from Kenya, a childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia — and a relatively thin résumé.

But once the primary season started, it became clear that Obama had a persona and a message that resonated deeply with voters. Variously a soaring orator, a sober policy wonk, an urgent promoter of change and a steady leader, he displayed a gift for finding consensus that let him draw support from people who might disagree with each other.

African-Americans, wary at first of a candidate who had not emerged from the civil rights movement or the black church, soon embraced him. And though he struggled to win over white, working-class voters, many whites were attracted to a candidate who rarely talked about race and focused on their concerns about the war in Iraq, health care and the economy.

His biracial background may have reassured voters who might otherwise have felt uneasy, said Governor James Doyle of Wisconsin, a white Democrat. “He has understood that occasionally white people say things that can be hurtful and can still be wonderful, loving people.”

Yet Obama also expressed pride in his African-American identity. Gates, the Harvard professor, called Obama “the postmodern race man.”

“He can wear it, he can take it off, he can put it back on. It’s just an aspect of his identity,” Gates said. “People don’t see him primarily as black. I think people see him primarily as an agent of change.”

Obama is a student of history, and he turned to it in delivering the speech in March that many believed saved a candidacy threatened by his ties to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose 2003 “God damn America” sermon became notorious.

The senator spoke of the legacy of slavery, of black grievance and white resentment, and of the possibility of redemption.

“I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own,” he said then. “But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change.”

“The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society,” Obama added. “It’s that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made.”

Civil rights leaders cautioned that much work remains to be done. But Lattrell Foster of Chicago, 32, who voted for the first time on Tuesday, was still close to tears as he considered the enormity of the nation’s progress and vowed to tell his children about it. “Just like my grandparents told me what it was like during the civil rights movement,” he said. “I feel like this night is a culmination of that history.”