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.