“A Greater Place to Live”


I write this on the evening of August 28, 2008.

It’s the birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and my late aunt, Josephine.

On this day, forty-five years ago, I was in summer school at the University of Pennsylvania. We were hearing a lot, in the women’s dorm, about this big march on Washington. We watched clips of it on the network news in the TV lounge that night. I remember seeing speeches . . . and Joan Baez singing.

Eight years earlier, on August 28, 1955, I would have been about to enter seventh grade in Chester County, Pennsylvania. But down in Mississippi on that day, a young black boy named Emmett Till–he was about six months older than me– was being beaten to death. I have no memory of that murder.

I’ve informed myself about it since then. I’d like to give you a YouTube link where you can see some images of Mississippi while you listen to  Bob Dylan’s song about Emmett Till. The last line of the song is the title of this post. (For those with slower modems, the printed lyrics are here.) I felt it necessary to look them up and reread them after I turned off the television tonight. After I’d watched tonight’s speech. After Barack Obama spoke.

I write now, and I don’t understand why I’m not dissolved in tears. Is his gaze holding me steady, I wonder? I couldn’t take my eyes from him. Savior? Celebrity? Another Adlai Stevenson, too smart to be elected president? He looked so vulnerable standing out there on that platform. And he looked so clear about who he is and what he means to do.

I’ve never known this country to be so low–not through the cold war, Korea, or the Vietnam War. Not through Watergate. Not even through Watergate. This is the worst. And yet the young people, the young people (or so I call them) who started moveon.org and talkingpointsmemo and so many other of the blogs and Web sites I depend on and who are representing me on my own city council and in my state assembly–how did they get so good?

I have no kids of my own. I don’t know. I’ve heard it said that we hippies blew it. Maybe we did. But it’s beginning to look to me like some of us parented a generation that’s taking charge. Could they have possibly taken us at our word?

“The system’s broken,” we said in the Sixties. “Everything’s got to change.”

That’s what I heard tonight.

Here’s the text.

This is for my cousins, my aunt Josephine’s granddaughters, Jennifer and soon-to-be-born Baby Girl, Susan and year-old Sailor, and Sarah, and their husbands Rob, Giles, and Ben; and for Josephine’s grandson Jonathan and for her two grandkids, Ben and Marisa, who will be voting in the next presidential election.


8 Responses to ““A Greater Place to Live””

  1. Jennifer Giancola Carney Says:

    Oh Carol…. you are so eloquent sometimes. I watched Barack last night with joy in my heart because with his campaign, for the first time in my life I feel like something good can happen in politics… this man has dissolved my cynicism towards government, my feelings of helplessness, my disbelief that change could ever come to such a massive, power-controlled system. I realize now that true leadership CAN inspire change. I have friends – even Democratic friends – who say “but he’s so inexperienced” and I say to them, “I would rather have a young leader who is wise enough to know he doesn’t know everything, who will surround himself with smart advisors and listen to them, and who can bring people TOGETHER … than an experienced leader who will continue the status quo.” I was most struck last night by Barack saying “This campaign is not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s about YOU.” And I looked at that stadium filled with people, at the crowds gathered in Times Square, and I thought “My goodness. This change may really, actually, be possible.” My prayers of protection go out to Barack and his family, and my prayers of hope go for our country, because if we don’t take charge now and start turning things around, we will keep moving down the road of increasing the divide between the haves and have-nots, and the American Dream that brought my great-grandparents here from Italy 100 years ago will fade away.

    Love, your cousin Jennifer

  2. Katharine Says:

    Lovely post, Carol. I really do think that Obama is living his faith: He’s modest, he takes action to right wrongs, he listens to other people (really listens), and he’s never hateful or spiteful or rude. I think that that is the secret behind his magnetism, that he is calling us to be our best selves once again.

  3. kate Says:

    I really enjoyed Obama’s speech. (I should say “am enjoying,” since I actually recorded it and have been watching it in bits since then–almost finished.)

    He seems to be genuine. And good. And –perhaps most amazing, given those first two adjectives — popular. Not a combination I have seen in a lot of politicians in my lifetime. I am quite impressed.

  4. anj Says:

    Seems like we are being moved by the same things. Thanks for the info on my blog.

  5. Ian Davis Says:

    Some songs by Phil Ochs from those times should not ever be forgotten, least those times also be forgotten.

    Too Many Martyrs
    Here’s To The State of Mississippi
    Love Me, I’m A Liberal

    I’ve made them available at the site below.


  6. Ian Davis Says:

    In 1955 blacks were tortured by individuals. in 2008 the practice has now been elevated to official US government policy. This acceptance of torture today should revolt each of us as much today, as the abuse of people in the past now so easily revolts us. I say this least some feel otherwise.

    I would like to hold out the hope that Obama might be to the US what Trudeau was to Canada. But in my soul I feel that no one man can save the US from itself. The US has simply gone too far wrong for too long. It becomes ever more what it hates and fears, because it chooses as a society to hate and fear. I
    now think that whether one votes republican or democrat the
    end result is the appearance of choice, but the reality is that you’ve just wasted your vote, because both republicans and democrats at heart stand for more of the same — not for real change, that might profit America.

    Wasn’t it George W. Bush who promised a kinder gentler America. After a while, it gets hard to take US politicians at their word.

    The financial meltdown and the new policy of invading Pakistan, both leave me thinking that the US and its people face nothing in the short term but more despair. It will take a generation to turn things around, even if the next generation wants too, and that is not at all clear. Americans like being Americans.

  7. Ian Davis Says:

    I’ve created links to some songs by Phil Och’s that should not be forgotten, least in forgetting the songs we also forget the past.

    Too Many Martyrs
    Here’s To The State of Mississippi
    Love Me, I’m A Liberal


  8. Recent Links Tagged With "hippies" - JabberTags Says:

    […] public links >> hippies Yes, We Have No Cuisine Saved by KingBladeDa3rd on Sun 05-10-2008 “A Greater Place to Live” Saved by postforvibhu on Sat 04-10-2008 The Audacity of Despair Saved by Jullloo on Fri […]

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