Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let's Hear Your Voice....

Since I know that I'm getting an unusual number of visitors from Sam Graham-Felsen's blog at the Barack Obama site (thank-you Karoli!), I thought it would be great to engage in a dialogue here - whether about women and Obama or other issues about the campaign . Both my daughter and I have posted our thoughts and it would be great to hear from all of you -- new visitors and old friends!

I realize I've focused here alot lately (okay mostly) on the Presidential election, and there are many other important issues affecting kids going on in the news that must be written about - but pardon my focus -- the Feb 5 Primary is on Tuesday - and aside from other personal responsibilities I have, this has been very important to me. There is an awful lot at stake - for our kids and the youth of this country - and if we don't find time now to help move us in the right direction, it will be too late later. I am working in my community this weekend to GOTV (Get Out the Vote) for our Feb 5 primary -- and I promise after the 5th to return to a more diverse dialogue with a sundry of issues.

So, in the spirit of youth (and you are only as old as you feel!) I've invited some other young adults from other blogs to weigh in with their thoughts on the election and hopefully they'll take me up on my offer. I also know there are other young visitors (you know who you are!) who read this blog -- speak up, even if you don't agree and Let's Hear Your Voice! If you are not young in years, you're not exempt .... chime in ... this is about a dialogue between the ages! Let's have some fun.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A New Driver in the Seat

Posted by one of my daughters who will be contributing to Minivan Diaries:

Dear Grandma,

I sit here at the pinnacle of my youth, or at least that is how it feels to me. I know you would beg to differ. You would tell me that even you, who just celebrated your 74th birthday, are still youthful and that vigor and vitality are just a state of mind, one that is well worth preserving. Every time I see you a new sense of energy emanates from your enthusiastic words and optimism on issues that once seemed impossible. You are a product of success. You were at the forefront of feminism; you were in the vanguard of civil rights and a vigorous supporter of a woman’s right to choose. You know what it is like to work for something, but you also know what its like to win. This is not to belittle the tremendous fight that you prudently fought while balancing raising a wonderful and socially conscious family. How did you do it?

There is something else that you have instilled in me; the importance of retaining a sense of history from all angles of myself. I must remember as a woman, the fight that still rages today regarding equality. I must remember as a Jew the malicious anti-Semitic remarks that lead to the denigration and attempted extermination of our race, I must remember as an American the ideals that lay the foundation of our nation, and most importantly I must remember as a youth that I have a responsibility to prepare for the future.

Just the other day, you told me that you and your friend, Barbra, had had a conversation regarding the upcoming presidential primaries in our states. You were trying to convince your friend to vote for Obama (way to go Grandma!) and in the process the youth of America came up. You told Barbara quite simply that the youth are rallying for Obama and because the future is ours, not yours or Barbra’s, that she needed to follow suit. I had never thought of that. Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone has the right to vote for their own reasons and I am not suggesting that the 65 and older age group should rally behind the 25 and younger constituent and I know you weren’t either. You were stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. You were projecting the future and anticipating based on the past. You, as the older generations have the experience, we have the motivation. So this brings me to Hillary.

I didn’t originally want to write about this. The topic frustrates me as caller after caller suffocate public radio with sob stories on how the media is trivializing Hillary, simply by calling her by her first name. People connect to that. One woman called in saying that she too is called by her first name when her co-workers go by their last. I always thought it was straightforward as to why Hillary chose to be addressed this way. I thought she wanted to disassociate herself from her husband, a move I most nearly admired, but the admiration ended there (and so did the disassociation). Her campaign chose to go by Hillary, she chose to go by Hillary, so please do not tell me that it is degrading to her, to be called Hillary.

Grandma, you fought to put women on a level playing field with men. You stood at rallies, you lobbied legislators, you even opened a home for disheartened and downtrodden women, so you of all people are sympathetic to her plea. So I ask you one more question, do you see it as I do? Do you see this platform of attracting votes by simply being a woman as insulting as I do? To me, we have taken a step backwards. It is not the youth of America that are finding Hillary’s femininity attractive, it is the old feminists, those who themselves stood on the steps of the capital fighting for title IX, that are voting simply on gender. This to me is contradictory to their single most important goal; to be gender blind in situations like this. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe, having grown up with a generation, whether real or not, with the mentality that gender is not a means of distinguishing ability or character has given me and my peers a unique perspective. A recent Facebook and ABC News poll asked the question of what candidate Facebook members would least like to see in the white house. Hillary won with 70%, with nearly 32,000 votes (Edwards was a distant second with 16%). We are generally gender blind with no previous biases of the past directly impacting us, and we are supporting Obama in throngs.

In the end, it comes down to you and me. It comes down to us, cherishing this momentous opportunity to change our country for the better. I remember where I am from and what has formed and then reformed my ideas of what would be best for my generation and me. You have taught me to see through a kaleidoscope lens. You have left a legacy I hope to live up to because you, Grandma, are a true American hero.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For you...

A Letter to My Mother,

I am honored to be sharing this historical moment in history with you. We have witnessed a lot of historical events together - I remember watching the first walk on the moon with you on a small black and white TV set in your bedroom. I vividly recall the memory of wishing for my Saturday morning cartoons to return instead of the constant image of JFK’s funeral procession and endless media coverage. I remember turning on the car radio and hearing the body counts being reported of fallen victims of the Vietnam War. I remember my confusion of seeing you weeping at the news of Martin Luther King’s and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassinations. There is the blur of the Kent State shootings and the riots of the 1960’s. We watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and sang freedom songs on our car trips. I sat by your side as we watched Richard Nixon resign as President of the United States. We watched with awe as the Berlin wall came down and sat together after the Twin Towers fell. We walked together to celebrate Israel’s 25th Anniversary and rallied for Darfur.

We shared all of this, as mother and daughter. We often talk about the progress of the woman’s movement and the quandary women of my generation face about choosing to stay home to raise our children or to enter the workforce. We come from different generations, yet as we evolved from mother and child to mother and daughter to mother and friend we have learned much from each other. We look back at history with different lenses, our perspectives and memories shaped by our experiences and our years. But we look forward with the same hope.

We have reached a critical moment in history again. Mother and daughter, mother and friend.... we are two women from different generations who stand upon this precipice of history with a voracious appetite to devour every moment. My memories of those pivotal events in history are clouded by my youth. I want to soak up every minute of this incredible story. And I am glad you are here to share it with me.

Woman to woman, I am proud that you are not shackled by feminist guilt to dutifully vote for a candidate solely because she is a woman. You have told me that you are listening to the voices of our youth because it is their future, not yours. Our feminist forbears made it possible for us to be at this crossroads. But I think you would agree that it was never their intention to burden us with such a ridiculous responsibility to blindly support any woman for the sole reason of gender. I believe that their legacy entreats us to think critically and act responsibly when exercising our precious right to vote.

I know about your hopes for the future and I know that as much as you wish to see the day when a woman is President, this woman is not the one you would choose. But the simple possibility that this nation would consider a woman and an African American as serious contenders for President of the United States is momentous in itself.

We share the excitement of Barack Obama’s candidacy because he symbolizes all of those historical moments that we shared together. He represents hope and a desire to change what isn’t good and to make even better things that are. He has dreams for us to believe again. In all our years as mother and daughter, you’ve taught me to dream and to believe that things can always be better if we put our minds to it. Well, my dear mother and beloved friend, we are doing just that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nate Fisher is NOT in the News Again....

....But he should be.

Back in September, Nate Fisher, a young English teacher from Guilford High School, mistakenly handed a graphic novel to a student in his freshman English class without getting permission from his Dept. Chair. The girl’s parents discovered the book and believed strongly that it was inappropriate reading material for their daughter. Their response triggered the involvement of a whole litany of officials: the High School principal, the School Superintendent and even the police. Mr. Fisher was placed on administrative leave and soon after he resigned his position.

There was a huge backlash from students and parents who strongly supported Mr. Fisher. The young student was apparently harassed at school. A Face book group was created by students in support of Mr. Fisher, which was eventually shut down due to inappropriate postings. The blogosphere voraciously took on many of the issues surrounding Mr. Fisher’s resignation, myself included. The local news media reported quite a bit as well.

And then….nothing. Once Mr. Fisher was cleared of all charges (there ended up being a police investigation), there was nothing left to say. At least nothing left to blog about or to report on. However, for his former students at Guilford High School, for the readers of the blogs and for those who followed the news, everyone was left wondering how he would pick up the pieces of his life. This is one of the reasons why the media can be wearisome. How many times do they report on stories and then leave us hanging indefinitely?

Well, in the case of Nate Fisher, I personally followed up. Okay, I give all the credit to a friend who had heard that he is teaching again in Durham, CT (just north of Guilford). Through her persistence, she found an article about him, written by a student, in the high school newspaper. I feel obliged to send the good word out. Here is a snippet of the article:

“He’s interesting and brings a new perspective to the classroom.” Having experience as the editor in chief of the literary magazine at UConn Mr. Fisher intends to, with the help of his senior creataive writing class, start a literary magazine for the school. This will be the first literary magazine at Coginchaug in four years. He feels that this will be good for the students of the school. Since students spend most of their time writing for classes and teachers, he feels it will be a “good opportunity for students to write for themselves and show Coginchaug’s creative expression.”

Mr. Fisher deserves to be congratulated. He was not driven out of the State of Connecticut or even out of the region, nor was he forced to reinvent himself as something else in order to find a job. He is doing just what he loves, right next door to the town that potentially could have ruined his career. He had the stamina and fortitude to move on with clearly the same passion for teaching that he exuded as a teacher at Guilford High School. Although I am told that Mr. Fisher’s replacement is an excellent teacher; she is not Nate Fisher.

It would be an unforgettable gesture if Mr. Fisher were invited back to speak to his former students to tell them personally that he is doing just fine. A while back, I wrote about how this event was a lost teaching moment. Here is a second chance for the Guilford High School administration to turn this debacle into a significant learning opportunity for its students. It may not be an academic learning moment, but it sure could serve as a character building moment - an equally important skill set that demands attention during adolescence.

Nate Fisher faced a huge consequence for a mistake that he made, but it appears that it only made him stronger and more determined to pursue his passion to teach. If I were the principal of Guilford High School, I might just consider going out on a limb and doing something radical. I might hold out my hand to Mr. Fisher in a gesture of good will and invite him back to talk to his former students. This might at least put a dressing on the wounds of the kids he left behind and serve as the final lesson he never had the opportunity to teach them.

I guess it has the potential to cause some controversy. But hey, isn’t it better to get our kids thinking about the hard stuff that they may confront in their own lives and show them by example that people can move on and maybe even forgive and be forgiven for their mistakes?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr .... take 10 minutes to watch his "I have a Dream" speech....

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Canvassing 101

I feel invigorated after this morning’s workout. No, I did not go to the gym or go on a long run... nor did I liberate my lab from behind the fence for a jaunt in the woods - I drove my car to a large urban high school and canvassed (my first time ever!) for Barack Obama. I call it a workout, because after I was done, I felt as good as I do after one of my long, hard hikes on a winter morning.

The "Walk for Obama" gathering was an event to get people like me out to learn how to canvass. This is grassroots at it’s best. I sat in the cafeteria of this large city high school, getting pumped by the mayor’s encouraging words. What we soon discovered was that our Canvassing 101 class consisted only of watching 2 volunteers demonstrating 3 typical scenarios and an overview of the rules and etiquette of canvassing… and then we were deemed A+ students ready to head out on our own - more like Boot Camp 101!

I walked with my daughter and her 3 friends through a neighborhood in the city, which quite honestly, we would have previously only driven through with our doors locked. We had been handed a 3-page list of doors to knock on, mapquest directions to the area and a script to follow in case we got stuck. As the adult in the group, I felt I had to appear confident and show some leadership but honestly, I felt as incompetent and intimidated as the kids.

At first glance, we stood out so badly in that neighborhood. We had walked out of the suburbs and into this broken down neighborhood - and it showed. Hardly anyone answered the door when we knocked. But we knocked on every one that we were assigned. We were a little frustrated -- but soon we started talking to people on the street. We had conversations, asked directions, encouraged people to vote. We even met a woman who knew practically every person on our list. She was so enthusiastic that I thought she was going to take us each by the hand and personally bang on those doors until we got an answer! Instead we got away with some very copious notes on our voter list.

Here was the best outcome of all - these kids would never have walked those streets had it not been for their commitment to help with this campaign. I witnessed their pride after we turned in our completed forms and I commended them for following through. They had accomplished a lot of firsts in a very short time: campaigned for a candidate they hope will be our next President and overcame the trepidation of knocking on doors and talking to strangers. But more important than all that is the other stuff - my mother refers to these things as “the goodies” the extras that you never expect to get. In this case, we bridged a gap between 2 worlds, if even for only a couple of hours, and we realized that as fearful as we were, the people we met were just people like us whose presence in their neighborhood made them feel like they counted - that their vote really was important. For some fleeting moments we all shared something in common.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Consequence or Punishment?

I did something last week that is so uncharacteristic. I grounded a member of my family. For anyone who knows me, they know that I despise punishment. But I do believe in consequences. Some argue that it’s just semantics and I am masking a punishment by calling it a consequence. By definition, this can’t be so:
Consequence: Something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition
Punishment: A Penalty imposed for wrongdoing

I have told my kids that, just because I don’t believe in punishment does not mean that I wouldn’t use it. I just don’t believe in its efficacy. As a parent, it is my job to teach my kids to become responsible, civilized and caring adults. “Punishable behaviors” are opportunities to teach important personal skills such as honesty, humility, problem-solving and mediation.

Foremost is the notion of respect. Since the first day I became a parent, almost 21 years ago, I have always tried to respect my children. During infancy, for example it meant respecting that they coveted the sensory feel of touch and the soothing sound of my voice. As toddlers, I respected their developmental need to show some control. I gave them gave them choices and I very consciously picked my battles. Being a parent is about being reasonable and teaching tolerance, it’s not about power and a misuse of authority. After all, mutual respect yields trust, faith, honesty and forgiveness. If a parent and child can have all of that in a relationship, then really, isn’t this the goal?

Enter punishment. Kids are going to break rules and they are going to do dumb stuff. We all know that as adolescents, their undeveloped brains account for a big percentage of the reason why they often find themselves doing risky behaviors. Just like us, they are going to make mistakes. They are human beings. So as their parent, I adhere to the belief that they deserve my support and not my reproach when they mess up - a timeout, no TV, no dessert, imprisonment in their room, groundings - where’s the right incentive to try to do it better next time? Is it the threat of more punishment? Or is it an understanding of personal accountability and their desire to act proactively to do it right?

When my kids were younger this was easier. Lots of times they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, so it was my job to teach them - consequences were straightforward and sometimes not so obvious. For example, when they were fighting with their siblings, they needed to learn how to work it out. Sending them to their rooms made no sense to me (even if it would have been quieter). If they were generally misbehaving, a time-out might have been a short term solution, but what 4 year old is going to sit in a corner and truly think about why he’s there? A validation of feelings and how to deal with them the next time his “pot got stirred” seemed like a much better resolution and built interpersonal skills that could only help later on.

As they grew older I expected them to know the difference between right and wrong. Consequences. A consequence requires a dialogue, an understanding of the action and once again mutual respect. Punishment simply requires the recipient to be the powerless receptacle of the penalty. The former approach acknowledges that a behavior or action may have been wrong, but promotes a higher level of thinking and problem solving. The latter approach is an unproductive attempt to reach the real parenting goal: to prevent the behavior from happening again.

So, who acted so egregiously to warrant a “grounding” in our household? Our yellow lab, the neighborhood ambassador, and friend to all he meets. He had wandered too far afield and was picked up by a friend outside of our neighborhood a distance from our home. I guess the nature of our relationship of “owner and master” precludes any possibility of a mutually respectful relationship but I believe that he and I have some fundamental understanding - a trust that he will protect me and I will protect him. So, upholding my end of the contract, he faced one single consequence and true punishment. He is now locked up behind his electric fence indefinitely. I know it was for his own good and he left me no choice (isn’t that what punishers always say?). I guess you could argue that this was a consequence. But in my mind, as much as it breaks my heart, I can only say punishment was my only recourse.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Children of Darfur

It’s been a year and half since my kids, their friends, my mom and I drove down to Washington, DC for a rally on the Mall to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. The rally was co-sponsored by the Save Darfur coalition and the American Jewish World Service - two organizations that have worked tirelessly to educate the citizens of our world about the atrocities that continue to afflict the people of Sudan, to help advocate for solutions and to seek financial support for their efforts. There are many groups who are working on the ground in Darfur and neighboring Chad as well, helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees caught in this conflict. And still more who are doing both.

I returned from the rally, feeling empowered and inspired by the speakers. I got involved in our state-wide coalition. My daughter and her friends received a grant to host a screening of the documentary, “God Grew Tired of Us” about the Lost Boys of Sudan and sponsored a “DarfurFast” through STAND to raise money for Darfur. They organized their high school class to sponsor a road race for “Right to Play”, an organization that brings sports and health education to kids in war-torn countries.

And then time got in the way, as always. Or life. Or just stuff. But my involvement has been diminished to reading email alerts from the Save Darfur Coalition and following events in the news. My concern is still as great, my compassion for these souls no less.

I put this slide show together from pictures I found on the WE news archive. It’s not much but maybe it might just nudge us all a little to keep ourselves aware of what is happening across the ocean. As we read news reports of the latest outbreak of civil war in Kenya and the ongoing kidnapping of children by militias for more soldiers in Uganda, the story only continues. As someone once told me, “we’re all made from the same blood” - pain and despair whether down our street, in our country or elsewhere in the world is the same no matter what - we are all human beings inhabiting this earth.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Student Voices

"I admire young people who are concerned with the affairs of their community and nation perhaps because I also became involved in struggle whilst I was still in school." ~ Nelson Mandela

Over the last week or two, I have become unusually intrigued so early in an upcoming Presidential election. I have written about youth voters and the need for our children to become active citizens. I cherish our Constitutional right to express our opinions and furthermore, if we wish, to turn our voices into action. I believe, however, that children, from the very young to those on the cusp of adulthood, all too often have their voices stifled and their ideas quashed, simply because they are kids. As adults, (whether we are parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, principals and sometimes even caring strangers) we can act as both their conduits and their cheerleaders. We can help them get their voices heard and their ideas turned into action by doing something as simple as listening.

I have found some very well intentioned organizations that are encouraging young people to speak, act and deliver. There are so many people involved in this important work. As I am compiling my own list, I have also stumbled upon the voices of some pretty articulate youth through their own comments and blogs. I will be adding a separate blogroll to emphasize the importance of their words. And on occasion I hope they chime in with their own thoughts.

My teenage daughter will be joining me occasionally me on this blog beginning in February to share her thoughts, opinions and ideas. As adult and teen, as parent and child, or as person to person, we will be engaging in dialogue, trying to understand each other's perspectives and stretching our minds to think hard about important issues - whether they be political, personal and everything in between. I am not sure what to expect but I look forward to sharing these pages with her.

..and since we can't have two drivers, at times, I'll give up my seat. She'll be the driver and I'll be the passenger in these Minivan Diaries.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

25 Days to do Something

It was just fortuitous that I came across this blog, this evening, in light of my post earlier today. Laura is a stunning example of the point I was trying to make. She is 10 years old, and I assume with the help of her parents, she is honoring her grandfather's memory by doing good deeds and then blogging about them. The project started out as a 25 day challenge for the month of December, but because of the overwhelming response, she has decided to continue. What a legacy her grandfather left for her and kudos to her parents for providing her support. Reading her posts and the comments, it is evident that her charitable spirit has become infectious and other kids have joined her cause.

Growing Active Citizens

The youth of our nation can have a powerful voice, if they choose to use it. Not long ago I posted about the film 18 in ’08 - which is meant to inspire our 29 million young voters between the ages of 18 and 24 to exercise their democratic voice through the ballot box. It was all the news after the Iowa Caucuses and if Iowa and New Hampshire are any indication, it appears that this is just what they are doing.

I am thrilled that we have reached this point. I am wondering, however, if it’s the timing, the candidates or the issues that has finally moved these kids to action. And are Republican youth driven by the same issues and concerns as their Democratic peers?

There are issues that our kids relate to: certainly a greater awareness of Global Warming brought to us by Al Gore, more knowledge of the health care crisis thanks to Michael Moore and his documentary, Sicko, the Iraq war and Afghanistan, thanks to well, you know, along with a “threat” of nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran. Then there is the genocide in Darfur - also a newsmaker that our youth are actively engaged in. Bigger topics, that are less issue specific such as the economy, unemployment, national security, education, crime and welfare and many other are less glamorous and more difficult to wrap their arms around but still undoubtedly on their minds. Whatever has lit their fires indicates that they are on a mission to help put them out.

Just read the voice of one youth, from a blog called, “It’s Getting Hot in Here” to hear the passion in their voices. It’s electrifying. Here’s just a piece of it:
What does this all mean? Is it all rhetoric? Of course it is. But what it means is that Obama is rallying this state and in turn the country around the idea of a movement. The high-school kids in Concord, NH who rallied for Obama: they’ve never yelled for the civil rights movement before, they’ve never been told they’re part of a movement before - and now, there they are, cheering to be part of something bigger than themselves.

During the 2004 Presidential election, I home schooled one of my daughters who was then in the eighth grade. The election stood as the backdrop to our year of study. We examined the Constitution, voting, citizenship and politics. As a result of that year, she took on leadership positions in high school and is a very active citizen, engaging her classmates in community awareness and service projects. During that home schooling year I discovered that there are many organizations devoted to educating our youth about voting and citizenship. There are curriculums for elementary and middle schools. For example, the mission of Kids’ Voting is:

to get students involved and ready to be educated, engaged citizens. Students learn about democracy through a combination of classroom activities, an authentic voting experience and family dialogue.

PBS sponsors the Democracy Project for Kids that includes an interactive website. Service Vote, a program of Youth Service America,
challenges young people to think critically about how they can affect the issues that they work to address through service by participating in the political process and provides opportunities for them to participate in the presidential election.

Beyond voting, is the notion of civic engagement -- engaging kids in the community through service projects and teaching philanthropy. Making current events a regular part of family discussions and talking about solutions will contribute not only to a more educated electorate but to one that believes that community service is essential to the wellbeing of our country. As kids we had the Boys and Girls Scouts, now such, on-line organizations as,, and Youth Services America have made our world so small that kids can help affect change in their local community or across the ocean.

Rather than receiving gifts from classmates for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, my daughter’s class opted to open a Tzedakah in Action (Charity) fund, where each family contributed the equivalent of the gift each child would have received. Under the supervision of our Rabbi, the class acts as a Board of Directors of a Philanthropic Fund and they decide how the money will be disbursed. They are not only learning about philanthropy, but also about decision-making, compromise and leadership. And it’s never too early to start. During the holidays, the popular on-line game, Club Penguin offered members (elementary aged kids) an opportunity to trade in their virtual "hard-earned" money for real donations to one of 3 chosen organizations:

..."Coins for Change" campaign ending on Christmas Eve in which 2.5 million users donated in some cases as many as 1,500 coins -- enough to furnish an igloo -- to charities. In turn, the site, owned by Walt Disney Co., divided 1 million real dollars among the charities: the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund and Free the Children.

This was money that kids had earned on the site that they spend to buy items for their penguin. It was an opportunity for each child to understand first-hand how good it feels to give.

As parents, we must use these early years as a training ground for teaching civic responsibility by seeking out meaningful opportunities. Taking interest in what is going on in our world, participating in activities to help better our own or other communities, practicing philanthropy at an early age and bringing our kids to the polls when we vote will create informed and compassionate adults who will not squander their precious right to vote but instead use it as it should be - to make their voices heard loud and clear.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Let's Restore Hope: Obama in '08

What an awesome responsibility politicians owe to their constituents. As public figures we expect them to act judiciously, courageously, unselfishly and honestly. Yet, time and again, their humanness seems to get in the way, and the simple qualities we expect them to engender slowly erode away. And then we lose trust, hope and inspiration. But, we constantly seek intelligent leaders who will inspire us with vision and honesty - and every election we anticipate that somebody will step out from behind the curtain - who will be decent and humble despite being a politician who must wield influence and power to get their job done. Maybe it’s an oxymoron to expect both. Or maybe not, I still want to believe it is possible.

The first time I ever heard of Barack Obama was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Like many Americans, I was stirred by his speech. Like many Americans, I remember thinking what a great candidate he would have made for president… and then like many Americans I thought, no way - he’s young, he’s black and nobody knows him. So, when he announced his candidacy last February, I was thrilled, but wary.

And then I watched his Victory speech in Iowa Tuesday night and I was sold. Until that moment, I wasn’t exactly sure who I would be supporting - although Obama was cautiously my answer when somebody would ask me. I realized that the Democrats can nitpick and debate over the issues all they want, because at the end of the day, I can live with the positions of any of them. So, who moves me? Who inspires me? Who do I want to trust the future of our country and this world to? Who represents the person I would want my children to respect and maybe even think of as a hero? Hands down, it would be Barack Obama, and so I have registered to volunteer for his campaign despite his youth, his color, his relative inexperience. I believe he is that person who has stepped out from behind the curtain to lead us with intelligence, integrity, pride and humility.

So I signed up to volunteer to work on his campaign, because to win, he needs everyone to help. Back in February when he announced his run for the Presidency he said,

That's why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us — it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice — to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change. 

I have always taken my role in the Democratic process seriously and I have been one to believe that my vote, my voice counts. Despite our soiled reputation in the world and despite the lying and pomposity that has regaled this administration and despite the message of fear and the eroding of our civil rights that we have become accustomed to, I want to believe there is hope. I want to feel proud to be an American and I want my children to believe that this process can work and that we can each play a vital role in making it happen.

Obama’s word’s Tuesday night touched me. Hope.

Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.


To join the Obama Campaign, click here.
To view Obama's Iowa Victory speech click here.
For the written text of Obama’s Iowa Victory Speech, click here.
To view a great documentary about Obama’s past year and hear some of his entire speeches instead of the sound bytes we hear on the news, click here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Our Sons

The most emailed article from the New York Times on Tuesday was titled, “Giving Boys the Tools for Success and Multitasking”. As I read the article, it took me back to 1999 when my son was in middle school. The teachers nicknamed him “pigpen” because he forever had a stream of papers falling out of his backpack and hanging out of his locker. As much as we tried to help organize him we couldn’t. By eighth grade we gave up. He went through middle school having “nickel and dimed” himself as we were told by his teachers because he would lose homework assignments and get points taken off for failing notebook spot checks. He eventually worked the kinks out of some self-designed system because he completed Honors and AP classes, graduated from high school and attends a top University. But, there was no support - we were told he was just “wired” that way. Not that he would have agreed to see one of the “organizational tutors” in this article anyway - but I am sure no such option even existed.

Back in the early ‘90’s there was an explosion of literature about how boys are failing. Books titled, The Wonder of Boys, by Michael Gurian, Real Boys by William Pollack, and the War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers, essentially reported that boys were on the brink of crashing in every aspect of society - families, schools and the community. Boys were doing poorly in school, abusing more drugs, dropping out of school at higher rates, earning fewer college degrees, crowding special education programs and generally becoming misfits in our society. And today’s statistics support this prediction: girls outpace boys in academics (particularly in reading), in high school graduation rates, and in college acceptances. There continues to be a higher rate of male violent offenders, more boys in special education programs and in the principals’ offices. Take a look at these statistics; they are shocking.

Could it be that when I was worrying about the future for my daughters when they were born in the early 90’s, I should have been equally concerned for my son, being born in the late 80’s? I wasn’t aware then, that boys were becoming more and more disengaged. But it is so clear to me now, that somehow they were left behind.

Ten years after this proliferation of literature the story continues to unfold. A government report called, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2007, examined statistics related to our kids’ health, safety, behavior, economics, education and family and social environment over the past 2 decades. The conclusion is hopeful. Although girls continue to lead by a large margin, the gap is closing. The downward trend for boys has begun a slow turn upward.

During the 1980’s, girls had a lot of catching up to do and progress was made through legislation and programs that equalized access to everything from education to athletics. I am not saying that the playing fields have equaled out yet, but I believe that the close attention that girls were getting in the 80’s directly contributed to who they are today. Perhaps the “boy” literature of the early 90’s was the catalyst to do the same for their brothers.

The mere fact that both sexes are genetically different naturally translates into a divergence of approaches to learning, problem solving and to social interactions. Educators and other professionals are acknowledging that it’s not that boys won’t fit the mold, but the mold doesn’t fit the boys. New teaching styles and methodologies are being investigated, curriculums are being adapted and classrooms are being redesigned. There are all kinds of non-profit organizations that address “boy power issues”, to:

increase academic skills, to increase college success, and to develop the confidence, drive, and determination to contribute to American society.

Sound familiar? Not much different than the organizations that were created to support young girls a few decades back.

With books topping this year’s best seller list like, “The Dangerous Book for Boys” that according to the authors acknowledge:
“In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage"
It is evident that the tide is changing. The book does not promote aggressive behavior, nor does it praise boys over girls, it “exudes the confidence of ages past that boys are to be treasured not cured”. And perhaps this is the direction we need to follow. Boys need to be supported and given the freedom to be who they are. To be believed in. They are the next fathers, husbands and contributors to our society and if they are nurtured as children the results can only be better when they become adults.

Socrates may have had it right, when many thousands of years ago he asked,
“How shall we find a gentle nature which also has a great spirit?”
Perhaps we are moving closer and within time, both boys and girls will grow up being more comfortable in their own skins, content with their decisions, and finding ways to break through some of the issues that our generation has not yet achieved.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Killer at Large

I never thought the word "Killer" would be in a title of one of my posts, but it is befitting the content. There is a new film directed by Steven Greenstreet. In 2005, Greenstreet directed the award-winning documentary "This Divided State" which chronicled the furor over Utah Valley State College's decision to bring Michael Moore to speak on campus in the days before the divisive 2004 presidential election.

This film, exposes the details of the American obesity epidemic. And it looks specifically at childhood obesity.
It serves as a call to arms for concerned parents, school districts, and entire communities who have empowered themselves to take a stand and reverse this deadly trend which is set to cripple our entire nation's health care system and bankrupt our economy within the next twenty years.

An interesting thing about this film is that 3 twenty somethings produced this film out their 6x8 studio apartment. This interview, tells alot about the filmmakers and the project. Kudos to these young guys.

Hopefully, Killer at Large, will serve as a catalyst to bring the issue of childhood obesity into the forefront so there can be more dialogue and positive steps to attack this problem.

It is being submitted to 30 Film festivals and is supposed to be released in early 2008. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.