Open Letter To Brayden Harrington, Teenager Who Spoke At Democratic Convention

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Here is the letter that my better-half, James Wilson, wrote and mailed to Brayden Harrington, the inspiring teenager who spoke to the Democratic Convention about stuttering.  This young man moved many in this nation first to tears, than to clapping, and then to a renewed sense of what the majority will do this fall as we head to the election polls or cast a ballot by mail for Joe Biden.

Dear Brayden Harrington,

          Let me begin my letter this evening by saying how proud I am of your performance this evening at the Democratic National Convention. Your speech was fantastic and moving. Bravo! And I am quite jealous of your friendship with our future President, Joe Biden.

          I was a teacher for twenty-five years. I taught French and Spanish literature and language to young people your age, and later to adults at a technical college here in Wisconsin (though I grew up in central Maine, not so far from you). Of all of the students I had over the years (in the thousands) the ones that made the biggest impression on me and for whom I felt I had to work the hardest were the ones who were different than all the others. Not different because of some defect or something that made them an object of pity, but rather something that made them determined, hard-working and, most of all kind. Those things that make you struggle also, as the Vice President said, will lead you to be empathetic and decent. In short, you are building those qualities which will make you a great friend. I am delighted to see you embrace what makes you unique and what sets you apart from others your age.

In my career, I have worked with a student who was completely blind. I researched for her how to read letters in Spanish with accent marks on them in braille. We worked together until she had learned the new braille symbols and could read with her fingertips books like Harry Potter translated into Spanish, and completely on her own. Now, I have not read any of Harry Potter, so when she asked me what a muggle was, or what a horcrux was, in Spanish, I was a bit at a loss! I have worked with a student who was completely deaf since birth, but by the time she came to the end of my class, she was telling her classmates, “Come on now. You aren’t even trying to pronounce that correctly!” When asked how she could possibly know how French sounded, she replied, “Watch his lips—yours aren’t forming anything at all the same shape as his. There is no way you are doing it right!” And she was spot on! I have had students who were eleven years old, and those who were in their eighties. I have worked with students so profoundly dyslexic that they thought they would never be able to learn English, let alone French or Spanish, but we researched together strategies on how to overcome the difficulty in a second language. All of these students made me a stronger teacher, and a better person by being in their presence because they called upon me to meet them where they were and to go beyond.

I feel very much that way with you this evening. You sound like you are the age where they are going to be asking you to learn a foreign language soon. Don’t be scared by that, but be aware that the letters and combinations of sound which cause you to stutter in English may not be the same sounds and clusters of letters which will trip you up in a foreign language. Just ask the disability resource specialist at your school, or if there isn’t one, a beloved librarian who loves the challenge of finding obscure texts, to help you find information written by specialists who have dealt with your stutter before and follow their advice. Some of that writing is very technical, and not overly exciting, so if you need help wading through it, you may feel free to send me a copy of the text in an email and I will read it for you and give you a call to talk about it. I am happy even to help you in the research if that is the part that seems the most difficult—I have a lot of librarian friends to help me with that! What makes you unique is a challenge I am willing to help you overcome because in the end, we need young men like you to show the rest of the world what it means to be kind, hardworking and determined. We need more friends of the future President of the United States to succeed because when I am Joe Biden’s age, I want to know that the world is in the hands of someone like you, someone who is empathetic and decent. I want to know that my future leaders were the kind of students I would have wanted to go that extra mile to help.

Very sincerely yours,

 

Day Four Of Democratic Convention: Joe Biden Meets His Moment In Nation’s History

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The National Democratic Convention has concluded with the nominations of two strong and capable candidates as the standard-bearers of the party.  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will now undertake their task of winning the election.

As this week’s speeches and proceedings have played out I jotted a few notes at my desk about our presidential candidate and this time in our nation.  I believe that a man and a moment have met in a unique way.

Over the last four nights, we have again been presented with the background of the man we are asked to vote for in November.  We have heard of Biden’s boyhood and beginning points of his strong religious background.  We heard of his scrappy start in politics, along with his marriage and three children.  There was no way not to feel some of the weight of his pain as an auto crash claimed his wife and a daughter.  The way he conducted his life in the following years after the tragedy provides the best gauge as to how he operates under extreme pressure and duress.  His story is one that makes us sure of his character.  As I have said so often on this blog when it comes to presidential candidates, character matters. 

When pondering Biden’s preparedness and equilibrium for the Oval Office we have many of his past experiences to use when taking the measure of the man.  He comes through as a shining example of precisely the steely determination and steadiness a nation requires in a president.

Not every presidential race occurs in a time of national angst.  This year our nation has experienced an impeachment, a pandemic, the implosion of our economy, and then rocked by civil rights protests. In the lifetime of anyone reading this blog post, there is no other presidential election where the foundations of the nation were in such a precarious position during an election season.  1968 may come to mind for some, and yet even those events pale in terms of the enormity of what we now face.  As of this writing, nearly 173,000 Americans are dead from a virus that was not properly dealt with by our president and the federal government.

This year the Democratic candidate and this moment in our history have aligned.  There is no doubt that Bidens’s experience and leadership are in demand.  His skills and background meet at this juncture of our national events.

The third note I jotted this week is Biden’s desire and willingness to embrace the changes and reflect the dynamics now at play in our nation.  This decade presents a whole new array of forces and problems that are distinct and requiring new approaches to being resolved.  For instance, an attack on our energy grid is the most perplexing and demanding issue that rarely gets addressed, and yet is the modern problem that keeps security-minded folks awake at night.  Biden is adept at pulling in the brightest thinkers and also has a working knowledge of how to get recalcitrant members of Congress to lend a hand at heavy-lifting on legislation.

Though the modern world of new threats and anxieties will require forward-thinking in the next administration there is also no doubt we will also need to have a restoration of common sense and shared values.   Biden is best-suited of all the candidates this year to undertake this mission.  Being thoughtful, empathic, kind, caring, compassionate, level-headed, and sincere will again be traits that will win him a place in every home when the news is turned on in the evening.

A promising man and a nation in need have aligned. And so the campaign for our future begins in earnest.

 

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

Second Night Of Democratic Convention Aims For Heart Of Nation As Biden Formally Nominated

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If the first night of the Democratic National Convention left me feeling underwhelmed, given the decades of convention coverage our nation has long known, the second night of the virtual programming punched the right emotional chords and struck the perfect notes.  With the human side of Joe Biden being presented and the creative roll call of states being shown the night was a lift for the nation.  Our next First Lady Jill Biden, connected with those yearning for normalcy in our country.  And for politicos keeping score of the messaging the nation’s suburban women were sent a powerful spokesperson directly into their living rooms.

I was also pleased that restoring the country’s traditionally assertive role in foreign policy was a theme tonight—and it meshed with a post I wrote earlier today about Belarus and the need for American leadership to be restored on the world stage.

And for this decades-long admirer and supporter of Biden, it was finally the night that his dream of being nominated as the standard-bearer of our party came true.  It was an emotional moment!  There will be more as this week continues and then a massive sea of emotion that we all will partake in on Election Night as he is elected.

The real people from all walks of life who took part in the roll call was pitch-perfect as these were Biden’s people….the average-type men and women who make the nation productive and care about our future.  Jobs, health care, education, and the environment were all underscored from coast to coast by folks who like you and me–the ones who mirror the nation.  Next week at the Republican Convention it will be white and sterile.

I found myself applauding and doing fist-bumps in the air as the roll call took place and as Colin Powell spoke.  I adore Jimmy Carter and only wish it had been possible to see both him and Rosalyn share their words via video.  His character is so solid and this will likely be his final presidential season.  There was somber appreciation at our home for the video featuring John McCain.  And when it comes to delivering the words of practical politics, even when time is constrained, none does it better than Bill Clinton.  He proved that once again this evening.

The emotional video leading up to the words from Jill was so expertly crafted and toned that is was impossible not to cry.  But as I watched with one political ‘eye’ looking at the production I also knew the story, in and of itself, was so personal and gripping that nothing more than truth was needed for the film to succeed.

Though I still have some issues with the way the overall production of the convention ‘looks’ I am very pleased how the second night of the convention felt.  It was average Americans speaking about our future.

And nominating one of our own to lead to the way.

Reflections On Virtual Democratic Convention–Night One

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What we are witnessing with the virtual Democratic National Convention this week, and the Republican one to follow next is a necessity given the COVID-19 pandemic.  While watching the opening night speakers and video clips I thought more than once to what Teddy White would write if alive and able to follow the proceedings.

The famed author of The Making of the President series and a convention analyst for NBC News would mesh the messages of the speakers with the voters which need to be wooed in swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  But then he would doubtless say that will be harder to do this year with a  virtual convention.  Before one can be wooed they have to turn in for the broadcast.

The rationale for such a method of conducting this year’s party business is obvious, but so too is the fact that there could have been more finesse and heed paid to the production of the show.  Granted there can be no balloons or floor demonstrations for this person or that cause.  But some well-placed ‘bumper’ music with patriotic flourish and seconds of video with our proud standard bears from decades past could have ushered in the next speaker.  Almost any attempt to enliven the show would have been useful.

Why actress Eva Longoria needed to be in Los Angeles, with the city named at the top of the screen, as opposed to taking the backdrop and star to Milwaukee or Pittsburg was seriously flawed.  It will be interesting to see if they make the same blunder on night two.

The Nielson ratings showed that viewership last night fell roughly 25 percent from 2016.  About 19.7 million people watched the proceedings on TV while four years ago about 26 million people tuned in for the Democrats’ first night in Philadelphia.

While watching Monday I had to chuckle to myself that mom would have been distraught had this convention taken place in 1976.

I recall how excited I was that summer for the political conventions to get underway.    I was coming into my own with an interest in politics, and with wall-to-wall coverage on the networks with the likes of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, and Bob Schieffer there was no end to the excitement and real-time civics lesson to he had.  I was just then starting my admiration for Teddy White.  That summer I can still hear mom telling others that the conventions kept me ‘occupied” which seemed a nicer way of saying it kept me quiet.

While I am truly excited about Joe Biden, being a supporter of his since 1987, applauding him along all the years, he deserved a better production team for his convention.  While Michelle Obama was truly on-spot for the major address of the night the lead up to her shining moment was lackluster.

Let us hope for something much stronger tonight for production values!

Emma Sanders, History-Making African-American Woman, Dies At 91

A well-written and informative obituary is the only way to sum up the one published today for Emma Sanders.  A life well lived and a history-making memory most worthy of a read.

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Mrs. Sanders, an educator who went on to pursue a business career and to be a voice in state politics, was a founding member of Mississippi’s Freedom Democratic Party. Its slate, under the name Freedom Democrats, showed up in Atlantic City to challenge the state’s all-white official delegation, which had been empowered by the regular party organization to help choose a presidential nominee. (It was a foregone conclusion that President Lyndon B. Johnson, seeking a full term after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, would win the nomination.)

The convention was held in Atlantic City in August 1964, near the end of Freedom Summer, a voting-rights effort that had also swept up Ms. Sanders, a great-granddaughter of a slave. She was one of the people who helped organize local citizens and some of the 700 or so young people from the North who flooded Mississippi to help Black citizens surmount Jim Crow-era barriers that had kept their voter registration at 7 percent of those eligible.

In Atlantic City, Democratic leaders were embarrassed by televised hearings, held by the party’s credentials committee, on the issue of segregated delegations and the subsequent standoff between the two from Mississippi.

The party refused to seat the Freedom Democrats and unseat the official delegation, but, weighing in on the matter, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. supported a compromise that, although it left neither side happy, did move the practice of segregation at party conventions closer to the discard bin.

The compromise gave the Freedom Democrats two symbolic at-large slots and required white delegates to sign a pledge that the next delegation would be integrated.

At that, most of the state’s all-white delegation walked out, and the Black delegates filled their vacated seats for a time, leading to a humiliating ruckus when guards tried to remove them.

Officials later banned racial segregation in the delegate selection process; in 1968, the Freedom Democrats, reconstituted as the Loyal Democrats of Mississippi, were seated as the state’s official convention delegation. But the move, coupled with federal civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965, prompted a white backlash against Democratic candidates in the South.

The party’s refusal to seat the Freedom Democrats in 1964 had also split Black activists.

“Never again were we lulled into believing that our task was exposing injustices so that the ‘good’ people of America could eliminate them,” said Bob Moses, a founder of the Freedom Democratic Party and a leader of the civil rights organization the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “After Atlantic City, our struggle was not for civil rights, but for liberation.”

For Mrs. Sanders’s part, the 1964 controversy made her more determined than ever to keep pushing for change.

“We came back and worked hard to get the Democratic nominee elected, so they could not say we were disloyal to the party,” she was quoted as saying in “Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority” (2008) by Mr. Moser. “But the regular Democratic Party was not ready to accept us.”

After suing to place the names of Blacks on the ballot in Mississippi in 1966, she ran for Congress as an independent against John Bell Williams, a segregationist. She lost, but, she said: “We ran strong, and that was a revelation. The year after, in 1967, we were able to elect Blacks in local elections.”

Mrs. Sanders would live to witness great progress on civil rights, but one breakthrough that she had hoped for — the removal of the Confederate battle emblem from Mississippi’s state flag — would not occur until four days after her death.

HABEMUS CANDIDATUM!

What a truly amazing and inspiring moment in American history. 

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What Would Horace Greeley Or Jefferson Davis Say?

There is no way to express the feelings that went through me as I watched the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday evening.  I started watching political conventions in the summer of 1976 at the age of 14, and have found every one of them eventful and exciting in their own way.  But on Wednesday night it was more than just another nomination made by yet another group of delegates.  Instead it was history being made as the first African-American was selected to lead a national ticket into the fall campaign.   Naturally I am very proud that my party was the one to lead the way by placing Barack Obama on the ticket as the presidential candidate. 

But there is much more than mere politics to my joy.  All of my long held beliefs from the days in grade school about what this country stood for came flooding back to me as I watched the televised proceedings.  I found myself getting misty eyed in the living room as I watched and celebrated the huge step this nation has now taken.  The ideas as instilled by my teachers that anyone can grow up and become president is one that some find fanciful or too idealistic.  But the amazing story of Barack Obama’s journey makes me know that the ‘old-fashioned’ notions are indeed still applicable in this age.  That is not something to take lightly.  In an era where too many of my fellow citizens are jaded and apathetic about the political process, the placement of Obama on the national ticket is a testament to the political process working the way we were taught it could when we were school children.

For me the steps of progress for African Americans are far more than just a political event.  As mostly a self-taught student of history (and especially the Civil War), and a constant reader about the heroic men and women who blazed the path so Obama can be where he is today, makes me most aware that the small but brave actions taken every day has weight and consequence in the larger pages of history.  What has transpired this year across the nation is another chapter in that ongoing saga.

As I sat on the sofa Wednesday night I thought about the many larger than life characters in one of my favorite reads, “Freedom” by William Safire, a lengthy book about President Lincoln and the Civil War.  The paperback version in my office shows years of use, as the underbook is a tremendous resource.  From those pages, due to the writing style of Safire, the men and women of that era easily come to life.  Now in light of the newest entry into the pages of racial progress I thought what would Horace Greeley, the great newspaperman print as his banner headline the morning after Obama became the presidential candidate?  What might New York Senator William Seward, a vibrant voice against slavery say, and how ashen would Jefferson Davis’ face be when hearing the news?

Regardless of how we feel about either political party, or any particular policy that faces our nation, one thing is perfectly clear.  We are a great nation, and when we are true to the basic underpinnings of what we stand for, we grow and become stronger.  As Americans we all can be proud of the step we have taken in a most positive and forward direction.

Today we all can hold our head high.

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Time For Bill And Hillary Clinton To Stop The Cheap Tricks At Democratic Convention

The first night of the Democratic National Convention was warm and fuzzy.  It was gentle with fondness for Senator Ted Kennedy, and the human touch that Michelle Obama brought with her as she took the podium.  But once the evening proceedings were over a good friend and fellow political junkie called and asked the all-important question.  When was the push against John McCain to start?  When would the linking of McCain and President Bush begin?  When would the robust part of the convention start?

Political conventions can have, and should have, the touching moment of high emotion as when Senator Kennedy took the hall by surprise.  But there needs to be a tougher agenda from here on out over the fall election.  The stakes are too high to have this moment of national attention dwarfed by other issues.

It seems that the rumblings by Bill and Hillary Clinton are central to the proceedings that are not on the podium.  The media have picked up on the attempt by the Clintons to make this convention  ‘all about them.’  The slights that they feel, or the role they have been asked to play once given the spotlight for their respective speeches, must not continue to be the story.  Former President Clinton seems miffed that he was asked to speak on the night for security issues, as opposed to the night meant for economic concerns.  It appears that Senator Clinton is still not able, if press reports are correct, to accept the fact that this is not her convention.  She lost the fight for the nomination.  One of the cardinal rules of politics is that you do not enter a race unless you can deal with the possibility of a loss.

There can be no other route for either of the Clintons than to put their chin up, and focus their eyes on the only role they have now in this convention, that being the total support to elect Barack Obama as President.  Any other machinations that they are noted for must end. 

Only they can mend the fences that they broke due to their destructive style of campaigning during the primaries.  If Bill and Hillary want to shine in the spotlight this time the only way to do it is by ending the cheap stunts and become gracious in defeat.

The entire nation is watching.

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