August 20, 2008

Reflections of A DIVA in Nascar Nation

Our good friend Angela makes her blogging debut here at A Political Season with a guest post on the occasion of Barack Obama's visit to her town, Martinsville, VA. Look for her at her own blog soon.

-time U.S. House Speaker and Congressman from Massachusetts Thomas “Tip” O’Neil is known for the quote “All politics is local!” For me, on this day, never was that more evident-the man who is poised to become the first African-American to be nominated as the candidate for President by a major political party came to my little locality- Martinsville, Virginia. Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, this rural community is located in southern Piedmont region of Virginia. Best known for being the home of the smallest track on the NASCAR Circuit, this community has faced painful economic challenges in the last 20 years. In fact, when I was first introduced to this place a year ago while looking for my Divinely-appointed job, my first thoughts were of the place of my childhood home-the Mahoning Valley, Ohio which, according to a recent Forbes article, is among the ten fastest-dying communities in the nation. Now THAT’S something to be proud of! While the Valley’s death was due to losses in auto manufacturing and steel production, Martinsville and Henry County’s demise is linked to decreases in furniture and textile manufacturing. What was once the “Sweatshirt Capital of America” is now home to empty plants and broken people with broken dreams.

And to this community on the “Southside” of Virginia, where despair and unemployment is rampant, where teen girls become mothers at such alarming rates you wonder if there’s something in the water, where hope is a distant memory and it is truly audacious for fathers and mothers to have dreams for their sons and daughters, Senator Barack Obama came. With Democratic Convention keynote speaker former Virginia Governor-turned Senate Candidate Mark Warner by his side, Senator Obama spoke to a crowd of over 300 and reminded us all of the hope that lies dormant within. He spoke of how teachers need to be valued, veterans need to be honored, and those who were loyal to their companies just want a little loyalty in return. He reiterated his plea for fathers to be parents, not sperm donors, for our nation to decrease its dependence on foreign oil, and for this nation to move from “politics as usual” to the place where partisan politics is replaced by productive, effective governments.

For a person who has, for the first time in her life been ahead of the curve (I MADE MY FIRST CONTRIBUTION TO THE CAMPAIGN IN JANUARY 2007, THANK YOU VERY MUCH), this was not an Earth shattering speech Everything he said he’s said in one form or another since the night he was introduced to the nation at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. What was special about today was not what was said but WHERE it was said. Gathered in the lab of the Motor Sports Program at the local community college, new to the community and one of the keys to linking our history with our future, we were reminded of the successes that we have had in recent years. From the natural history museum affiliated with the Smithsonian to the public-private venture to create a four year college in a community where 15% of the population has less than 11th grade education, there are signs that this place is slowly waking from its decades’ long coma. And Senator Obama’s visit is continuing to help this place wake up. From my understanding, the only other representative of a presidential campaign to visit this place was Teresa Heinz-Kerry in 2004, so getting Senator Obama here was a BIG DEAL.

For a Diva who determines road trip rest stops according to the ease of accessing a Starbucks, moving to the heart of NASCAR Nation was a stretch, to put it mildly. I was asked by a national reporter if Senator Obama could win in this area-where the closet Starbucks is 30 miles and he could easily be viewed as “exotic.” Certainly-if he reminds them that his story is their story: single parent home, working class background, solid Christian marriage with 2 children and a dog (soon!). His story is our story-the son of the immigrant father who dreamed of the possibilities America had to offer is poised to become President and the great-granddaughter of a woman who was 12 when the soldiers came through the fields and said she was free who is poised to complete her Ph.D. Has our collective journey been without challenges? Of course not. But we are not, as Sen. Graham described, a nation of whiners. Rather, we are ingenious, loyal, dedicated hard working dreamers filled with faith, hope, and love-and these will transform our local communities, our nation, and our world.

So no, Senator Obama’s visit may not be viewed by the national media as significant. But for this community, on this day, for one brief moment-we mattered. And that truly may be all we need to kick our comeback into overdrive. As I prepare to make the menu for my Nomination Watch Party, I cannot help but wonder-what must his father and my great-grandmother think of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. I can only imagine the pride they feel watching us reach heights they could have never imagined, tempered with an admonition for us to not rest until everyone in our sphere of influence has dreamed big dreams and gone after them recklessly. Huge task to be certain-but I know Senator Obama can do it. And, just as soon as I find a Starbucks, this was Diva in NASCAR Nation can do it too!