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Thank You Michelle Obama

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Published in ChicagoNow, July 26, 2016

Last week, I was in despair. Donald J. Trump had painted such a dark picture of his vision of where America is and where it needs to go. All I could think of when I heard “law and order” was 1968. That year, we elected a man I despised, Richard M. Nixon. “Tricky Dick” had promised he was “not a crook,” but that turned out to be another of his many lies. And yet, 2016 is not 1968 and I thought a lot had changed for the better – until I watched Trump’s convention.

Being a political junkie, I watched the first night of the Democratic convention in great anxiety. The Bernie Bros were out in force, booing early speakers like Elijah Cummings, a congressman from Maryland. But did they know who he is? This son of a sharecropper is now a respected champion of civil rights and leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus. The booed every time Hillary’s name was mentioned. They even booed their hero, Bernie Sanders, for endorsing Clinton. Only when Michelle Obama took the stage was the room quiet and respectful.

I am so grateful for all of the wonderful and inspiring speeches made last night, but I want to give a few personal shout outs. Thank you, Sarah Silverman, a Bernie supporter and extraordinarily funny woman, for reminding us that opportunity for all to succeed is key, and that “as a pretty kickass woman [Clinton] once said, it takes a village.” But even more than calling for unity, thanks for telling the Bernie-or-bust people, “you’re being ridiculous.”

Indeed, they are. Perhaps if they had listened to Corey Booker’s words, they would have met his challenge to rise up and work hard to keep Trump out of the White House. So, another shout out goes to Senator Booker, who said in part,

We can’t devolve into a nation where our highest aspiration is that we just tolerate each other. We are not called to be a nation of tolerance. We are called to be a nation of love. Tolerance says I am just going to stomach your right to be different. That if you disappear from the face of the earth, I am no better or worse off. But love – love knows that every American has worth and value, no matter what their background, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

I was moved by his notion that tolerance is not enough. When we started our inclusion program at Cherry Preschool to bring children with special needs into our community, we first couched what we were doing in the language of teaching children to be tolerant. But Booker nailed it when he called for acceptance, appreciation of differences and love.

And thanks to Anastasia Somoza, a beautiful young woman with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, who bravely spoke from her wheelchair. Her moving speech reminded me that many people do care about their fellow Americans with disabilities. This is an issue close to my heart, both as the grandmother of children with special needs and as the founder of a preschool that welcomes them. Somoza’s words about how Hillary “…has never lost touch with people like me. She has invested in me. She believes in me. And in a country where 56 million Americans with disabilities so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me,” were in such sharp contrast to Trump, who mocked a reporter with cerebral palsy. I especially thank Anastasia for speaking on behalf of so many unable to speak for themselves.

And then there was Michelle Obama. There are not enough words to thank her for a moving speech that restored my faith and hope that our political process will reject the hate and fear mongering of Trump. I hope you watch or read the entire speech. Michelle’s words speak for themselves:

The story of this country…has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
She shared how she and President Obama raised their daughters with values, despite the toxic atmosphere in Washington, when she said they taught them,
How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country.
How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.

And she had an important message for the Bernie supporters who had what amounts to a tantrum because their candidate lost. She shared how when Clinton lost to Obama in 2008, she “did not pack up and go home, because as a true public servant Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.” I hope they were listening.

I do have great empathy for how it feels to lose. In 1968, I was young, newly married, and fearful that my husband might be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I supported Gene McCarthy, who was an outspoken critic of the war. Then on April 4, Martin Luther King, one of my personal heroes, was assassinated and our cities erupted in riots. Robert Kennedy announced the assassination in Indianapolis, saying in part,

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Then on June 6, Bobby Kennedy was killed. When the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey, a decent man with a long record of public service, I was disappointed. So, I understand how the “Bernie or Bust” folks feel. But I can also reassure them that our country has made great strides since 1968. To preserve these gains and keep moving in the direction of equality, acceptance, and love, please heed Michelle Obama’s words:

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!

Be inspired by the words from Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise poem quoted by Senator Booker,

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

I am hopeful today. We can do it. Rise Up. Stand up. Love trumps hate. We are stronger together.


by Laurie Levy
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