I took my 12 year old civil war buff to see the movie Lincoln today. I was excited to see it, because I had read the reviews and knew the focus would be on Lincoln’s strategy for getting the 13th amendment passed. The political scientist in me couldn’t resist seeing our Congress of the 1860s in action. I also appreciated the part in the movie, as shown in the picture above, when Lincoln shows how the war has impacted him both emotionally and physically.
The movie was incredibly well done, filmed in a very understated and almost cozy manner by Spielberg. I felt I was in the White House and the House of Representatives, rather than simply viewing them on a screen. The very human portrayal of Lincoln by Daniel Day Lewis made me realize even more how Lincoln has earned his place on the National Mall, overlooking the Capitol.
One thing that struck me during the movie when Ulysses S. Grant appeared was that I had attended Grant elementary school while growing up in Spokane, Washington, while my two sons have attended Robert E. Lee elementary here in Austin, Texas. I had never thought of that before, and even my son Andrew thought it was ironic. The scene of the two generals meeting at Appomatox had even more meaning for me, having now lived in the South for 9 years. Although some consider Texas part of the Southwest, having a statue of Jefferson Davis outside of my campus office makes me think otherwise.
As I watched the scene of the House passing the 13th amendment, I couldn’t help but think that my sons and I are part of the dream of those African-Americans who sat in the gallery that day. Not only have I become a successful academic, I have had the historic privilege of voting for the first African-American President. And then to think of all that this country had to go through after the civil war to get to this point is truly mind-boggling.
Even though I knew the ending, I must admit I still cried watching Lincoln die. We will never know what would have happened had he survived to lead the country through reconstruction, but he was clearly a wise leader.
Explaining to my son how the party of Lincoln became today’s Republican party was a bit difficult, and I’m sure he won’t fully understand that change until he is much older, but I was glad that he enjoyed the movie and is connecting with the history of our country and our people.
It has been an eventful week, and both the political scientist and the political junkie in me can’t get enough of the analysis of this week’s election. History was made again, as the first African-American President, Barack Obama, was re-elected. The Democratic party has put together a diverse coalition of voters that reflects the future of the United States. We are living in a very important time in history. It has been talked about for a long time, but this was clearly the first election that Latino votes played a key role in determining the outcome (see latinodecisions.com); women made it clear that they would raise their voices loud and clear; and same-sex marriage was supported in state-wide referenda. Will this be a sea change in American politics? Only time will tell.
As I see the gains that women have made, particularly in the Senate where there are now 20 women, more than any other time in history, I am energized and enthusiastic about the future. Indeed, a friend and I started a FB page — Austin Women for Political Action. If there’s one thing we all learned from the last four years is that politics doesn’t end with an election — it’s only the beginning. Issues I care about like women’s reproductive health, access to healthcare, and equal rights are ongoing issues at the local, state and national level. As far as I could tell, voter suppression wasn’t a problem in Texas, but it’s clearly an issue that needs to be dealt with going forward.
On this veteran’s day, I can’t help but think of my father and all that he lived through. As I said in my previous post, I can enjoy a better life because of his sacrifices. My children live in a better world, but there are issues related to our country’s economic situation and climate change which will have a huge impact on their future and their children’s future. There’s so much to be done…we must support science, a strong educational system, public broadcasting, and things which are public goods that help us all in so many ways. Our economy has been strong not because we simply let every person fend for themselves – it’s because we valued upward mobility which can only be supported through education. We value entrepreneurs and support them with government programs and contracts. We simply value each other, regardless of lifestyle or background. This country has survived much deeper divisions than we face now — I draw my strength from the words of Martin Luther King “‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Peace ♥
I write a regular blog for HuffPost Voces Latino, which mainly focuses on the politics of immigration. This week I focused on the utility of voting — you can see that post in Spanish or English. On a more personal front, I feel that voting is one of the more important duties of a citizen, but I also feel a responsibility to those who came before me. It may seem like a cliche to say that I vote because of those who fought and died so I could have that right, but this has a great deal of meaning for me. My grandparents were the children of slaves. They were born in the South; Georgia and Virginia, places where they were kept from voting and had to live under Jim Crow laws. I vote because they couldn’t. They became migrants, my grandfather and grandmother to the north, where they made a life outside of Pittsburgh, PA. My mother left Louisiana at a young age to find work to support herself and her family in Los Angeles, CA. I vote in their memory and in honor of the sacrifices they made so that I could have a better life.
My interest in politics began at an early age. I was 8 years old in 1972 when I went door-to-door with my sisters, campaigning for George McGovern. I remember staying up late watching the Democratic and Republican conventions, back in the days when there was a bit more drama, and not everything was scripted. I will never forget seeing Barbara Jordan speak at the 1976 Democratic convention. As a college student, I was excited when Geraldine Ferraro became the first female Vice Presidential candidate. I was thrilled by Ann Richards’ speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. And I was torn during the 2008 primary, when Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, two amazing candidates, made it so difficult for me to choose.
We live in a time of great division and differences in terms of where different groups think our country should be headed. Women’s rights are under attack, families are under pressure as they struggle to recover from the Great Recession, and income inequality grows. This is definitely not a time to sit on the sidelines. I am reminded of the words of Barbara Jordan from 1976:
‘…who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good?
This is the question which must be answered in 1976: Are we to be one people bound together by common spirit, sharing in a common endeavor; or will we become a divided nation? For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future. We must not become the “New Puritans” and reject our society. We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done.’