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The Post-Election Talk

My kids still have their entire adult lives ahead and I want to fortify them with the belief that they can help steer the world toward true peace and democracy. What brilliant hopes might I offer on a day that I deem so dismal?

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

November 3, 2004.

First thing this morning, my son Lucien, age six, asked, “Did Kerry win?”

“We’re not sure,” I answered, “but it doesn’t look good.”

Lucien and I, along with my nine-year old, Ezekiel, got on the Internet to find out. The race in Ohio, which will decide this election, was still too close to call. They are hopeful, my sons, for a president who stands for peace and wants to preserve the environment. Those are the issues they relate to. They are hopeful because they are young and have experienced so many good things: they love school, have a nice house, happy family, lots of friends, and have seen the best of other places— Broadway, beaches, Hyde Park in London— and even watched their team— the Boston Red Sox— triumph. Bad things, such as discrimination, war, poverty, and violence are stories to them at this point. As children of privilege, they reap the benefits of safety and of peace where they live. What I sit with on this quiet, brilliant, windy morning is how to talk to them meaningfully about the world today on the brink of Bush’s second term as President.

While I believe with every fiber of my soul that Bush has done horrific things for this country and this world, to call him bad or mean or evil does nothing positive. Although it’s unfathomable to me that he can imagine the course he’s charted— despite admonitions from intelligence and military savants— is the one toward security (maybe not peace), it is painfully clear that he does believe he’s doing the right thing. For my part, I don’t want to foster hatred in my children, not of Bush or Cheney or Republicans in general, not of Saddam or Bin Laden, or even the Yankees. I also don’t want to scare them with the litany of fears racing through my mind: the divides of the third world will become so pronounced here that we can’t deny them, we’ll lose reproductive freedom, social security, public transportation… and a draft will be reinstated in the new year. Not to mention that with escalated tensions in other parts of the worlds unabated over the coming years, terrorism could move to these shores. I have half a lifetime left as an adult citizen of this country; my kids still have their entire adult lives ahead and I want to fortify them with the belief that they can help steer the world toward true peace and democracy. So, what do I want to convey to them? What brilliant hopes might I offer on a day that I deem so dismal? There must be something.

Closing my eyes, I remember that Helen Keller couldn’t see or hear, but from within darkness and silence she figured out how— with help from her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan— to communicate. Abolitionists and suffragettes created networks that paved the way for freedom and democracy unimagined before their forward thinking and bravery prompted change. Elizabeth Blackwell, in becoming a doctor, did more than become a doctor herself; she opened the door for women to become doctors. Anne Frank poignantly chronicled the terrors of war and blind hatred alongside the wise optimism of adolescence and in doing so, her slice of sky from her family’s hiding place has been shared by millions. Nelson Mandela endured decades in prison and went on to help lead his troubled nation away from the deep gouges of apartheid toward justice. Rosa Parks’ bold courage on a bus nearly a half-century ago not only moved our own country toward a recognition of civil rights, her simple act persists, an icon children of every generation that follows can grasp. The Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, whose Green Belt project brought trees to her native land, recently became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Darkness to light, that theme I can take hold of, that theme my kids can comprehend. Is it melodramatic to urge my children to find their heroes and to encourage that we learn our lessons from them— even across history and across the world? I think not. I believe that it’s a fine time to honor those who have reached from darkness to reveal light. The most profound change seems to happen that way each and every time. Maybe the light my kids find shining over them— in the stories of those who made their lives beacons of light to the brightness of our family’s laughter— will carry them through. Maybe they will be beacons of light because we figured out how to protect their hope.

mmo : November 2004

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a former reproductive rights organizer turned writer, attempting to raise three fair-minded children in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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