I've been wanting to write something more about what this year's presidential election meant to me personally. It's not just the tremendous relief after the disastrous policy of the last eight years, or the exhilaration of actually electing an African-American president, or the anticipation of repairing our relationships with other nations. It's all of those things, but it is much, much deeper too.
So I need to tell you all a little about Al.Al Lowenstein
was a New York congressman in the early 1970s. He was one of the first people to try to bring the horrors of the government of South West Africa to light in the 1950s and 1960s. As an activist in the late 1960s, he became something of a minor figurehead in the anti-war movement. He earned himself a spot on Nixon's enemies list.
He was, in other words, our kind of people.
My parents worked enthusiastically on his Congressional campaign in 1972. As a result of their involvement they got to know both Al and his wife Jenny quite well. For years afterward we would vacation with their family often. Al's kids were like cousins to me -- closer, in some ways, than my blood cousins -- and to this day Jenny is one of my mother's closest friends.
Al Lowenstein was assassinated when I was nine years old. I was much too young to have a first-hand memory of his political work. But I grew up hearing stories about his charisma, his energy and his optimism. How he could arrive late for a speech, tie askew and hair rumpled, to an audience of cranky, impatient listeners who had been waiting for thirty minutes in a crowded and stuffy auditorium in the height of the summer -- and how, from the moment he entered the room, he would hold his audience spellbound, riveted, hanging on his every word. How he could start with a room full of dispirited, dejected people and leave them pumped up, rejuvenated, and convinced they could make something happen.
I grew up with these stories in my ears.
Then, last January, when Obama won the Iowa primary -- "They said this day would never come"
-- they came to mind again. And again at his "A More Perfect Union"
speech in Philadelphia. And again. And again.
Because when I hear Obama speak, I hear Al's words in my ears. When I hear Obama talk about change, I hear Al inviting me to imagine just what we could do if we all worked together.
That is what Barack Obama's election means to me. It is the legacy of Al Lowenstein. Al's dream was millions of people, convinced that by working together they can make a better world. Last week we took another step to make that a reality. And in my mind I am thanking Al Lowenstein.