Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is this land made for you and me?

Hi everyone,

Saturday's column.

It’s your inauguration, too

Observe it by helping your community

If Woody Guthrie was right and this land is our land, then this inauguration is our inauguration, too. President-elect Obama is asking that all of us take part in the inauguration this year by getting involved at home, in our own neighborhoods. A series of events have been scheduled, from Washington, D.C., to Washington County, that begin today and culminate in a national day of service on Monday.

Obama got elected mainly because he asked Americans to take their citizenship personally and, as a community organizer, he knew how to empower people so they could. This isn’t always easy.

Given the magnitude of today’s problems it’s easy to feel completely incapable of making a difference. But if you’ve felt overwhelmed by the national economic crisis, or the state’s economic crisis, or the threat of losing your job, or losing your health insurance or the million other locusts in the swarm of bad news, here’s a reason to have hope: her name is Edith Childs.

Ms. Childs is the centerpiece in the best story to come out of Obama’s campaign.

The story goes like this: Obama had to make an early morning visit to Greenwood, S.C. He’d promised to give a speech in return for a council member’s support, so he gets up at 6 a.m. after a long day.

He’s more tired than when he went to bed. He reads a unflattering column about himself in the New York Times. It’s raining. His umbrella breaks. He gets soaked getting into the car. The ride to Greenwood, out in the middle of nowhere, takes forever.

When they finally arrive, only 20 people are gathered in the room and everyone was wet from the rain. Nobody looks happy to see him. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, an older lady in a church hat starts chanting “fired up, ready to go, fired up, ready to go.” It is not a great chant, but there was something about it that seemed right. People start to grin. One by one, members of the crowd start to chant along with her. After a few minutes everyone feels better. A few more minutes and everyone, candidate Obama included, are actually feeling “fired up and ready to go.”

Obama said this taught him an important lesson: If one person can change the mood of a room, then the people in one room can change a town, a town can change a state and a state can change a nation.

Edith Childs didn’t need to do anything on the national stage to affect the nation. She lifted the spirits of a few people standing around her on a rainy morning in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that’s all any of us have to do to make Washington County an even better place to live. You can start this weekend by creating your own event or participating in one that’s already set up.

Here are three:

Habitat for Humanity: Tool, Materials, & Home Goods Drive, today and Sunday.

Items can be dropped off at 325 Chestnut St., near Main Street, in West Bend, this weekend, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or anytime during regular hours, which are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Phone: 334-1801.

Food Pantry Drives in:

West Bend — Hosted by Candy Shoop at the Volunteer Center of Washington County. Drop off non-perishable items on Monday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at 237 N. Main St.

Slinger — Hosted by the Rev. Matt Short and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 4680 Arthur Road. Leave non-perishable food items in the main entrance near the Information Desk on Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Monday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 644-6003.

For more listings around Washington County, check the Presidential Inaugural Committee Web site. You can find them at:

But I keep hearing Woody Guthrie in my head singing that song. I wonder if it’s still true: Is this land made for you and me? If it is, we’re the ones who have to make it.

So, this weekend, remember the civics lesson we learned in kindergarten: It’s your country, take it personally. Get involved in the place you live. As Wisconsinites, with a long tradition of civic responsibility, we’re good at this. Stake out your piece of this year’s inauguration – lift your neighbor’s spirits.

A bit kumbayah, I know -- but I left the campaign with an overwhelming and adamantine impression: if we could just sit down and have coffee together we could figure out any of the challenges facing us.

To my neo-conservative brothers and sisters: you don't have to do this on your own and you don't have to be afraid of the rest of us -- even if you think we're just monkeys. Neither of us have all of the answers.

Coffee's on. Your move.


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