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Boots on the Ground in PA

DanChris.jpgToday my friend and neighbor, Dan Letwin, and I went out canvassing for Barack Obama with our kids.  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon; a perfect day to change the world.

We brought our four kids: Nicholas, 4, Chloe 4, Hannah 2 1/2, and Timmy, not yet one. The kids helped us put people at ease as we knocked on their doors. And they lent us courage to do the knocking.

After picking up our list and route from the local State College Obama Office, we headed out to the Park Forest area of Ferguson township.

Over the course of the afternoon, we talked to over 20 people, many of whom were already supporting Obama. We did, however, talk to three undecided voters who were open to our pitch about Obama’s character and qualifications. We also talked to three Republicans who were ready to consider voting for Obama based on the recent problems with the economy, but were as yet unconvinced.

KidsCanvass.jpgI was struck by how welcoming people were and how willing they were to talk. It did not hurt that we had kids running around, excited to take turns ringing doorbells and happy to just be with each other and with us on a beautiful day.

We did meet one person who felt political views were a personal matter. We respected that and left him with some literature about the Obama plan to strengthen the economy.

One Republican resident answered the door with a bowl of spaghetti, but he didn’t excuse himself on that basis when we told him we were canvassing for Obama. He expressed concern about the economy (by far the main issue on everyone’s mind) and listened to us talk about how Obama wants intelligent regulations for 21st century business practices that do not undermine innovation.

In the end, however, the best part of the day was to be with a friend, with our kids, doing our part to nudge the world in the direction toward which we believe it should go.

If we changed no one’s mind, if we failed to win a single vote for Obama, it would still have been time well spent; for surely Nicholas, Chloe, Hannah and Timmy, each in her or his own way, felt something of the powerful possibilities that open when people enter into dialogue with one another intent on bending the “arc of the moral universe toward justice”.


  • Eva Letwin says:

    Families for Obama!

  • Alita Letwin says:

    Wonderfully written article! It made me feel like I was part of the experience, doing my civic duty.

  • Theodore BaBa Loder says:

    Thoughtful, accessible, clear, personal and appealing as well as beautifully written. I hope lots of people read it and are indeed nudged to join in the effort to make the world a more just place for everyone but especially kids for generations to come. Your quote (now commonly used) re. the arc of the universe is, I think, a change from King’s original words which, I heard and as I recall, were about the “arm of the universe already did bend toward justice.” Remember, he spoke from his roots as a Christian, prophet and pastor rather than primarily as a liberal political or even ethical voice. That is a quibble, I suppose, and doesn’t effect the strength and appeal of your statement. I love you, Teedo

  • Teedo:
    Thanks for this comment. It gives me an excuse to clarify the quotation about “bending the arc.” You are right that it was Dr. King who distilled the phrase to its poignant essence when he said at the Tenth Anniversary Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta on August 16, 1967, and frequently elsewhere: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
    However, this was a paraphrase of something Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and abolitionist who died in 1860, said in a sermon. He wrote:

    “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but a little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice. Things refuse to be mis-managed long.” See, The Collected Works of Theodore Parker

    Let us hope that Parker is right and things refused to be mis-managed long.
    Thank you for helping me learn what it means to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

  • Teedo BaBa says:

    So it is “arc” not “arm.” Good clarification. The point that King was making, however, holds, namely the arc is not impersonal and does bend toward justice. I’m glad to know Parker first phrased the notion in the context of a faith orientation, which King focused even more. I also think, as his actions demonstrate, human action helps define the arc and is an agent in its realization which also validates King’s, Obama’s and your affirmation and summons. I think, in the speech which included this statement, King repeatedly asked the question, “How long, O Lord?” and answered it in variations of the theme, “Not long, for ….” and one of the answers included this quote introduced by the word, “Because the arc etc” which was a powerful antidote to people’s despair about the struggle as well as an encouragement for them (us) to join and/or persist in the right, or God, side of it. Love, Teed

  • Teed:
    I imagine that the phrase about the “arc of the moral universe” was used by King in various ways and numerous places. In the 1967 speech to the S.C.L.C., he clearly uses it in the way you suggest, namely as an antidote to people’s despair. He said:

    “When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

    Here it is clearly bound to the notion of God as a creative force of good.

    Interestingly, I hear in Obama’s use of the phrase a slightly different emphasis. Drawing on the powerful religious weight of the statement, voiced originally by Parker in the context of the abolition movement and perfected eloquently by King in the civil rights movement, Obama places the burden on each of us, insisting that it is up to each of us to bend that arc toward justice. Here is what Obama said this past April 4th, the 40th Anniversary of King’s assassination:

    “You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. But what he also knew was that it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because each of us puts our hands on that arc and bends it in the direction of justice.

    So on this day – of all days – let’s each do our part to bend that arc.

    Let’s bend that arc toward justice.

    Let’s bend that arc toward opportunity.

    Let’s bend that arc toward prosperity for all.

    And if we can do that and march together – as one nation, and one people – then we won’t just be keeping faith with what Dr. King lived and died for, we’ll be making real the words of Amos that he invoked so often, and “let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

    This adds a dimension to Parker and King’s original uses insofar as it calls for direct political participation and action. In doing so, however, it not only reaffirms the religious roots from which the idea grew, but also beautifully links the movement Obama is leading to the civil rights movement and the abolitionist movement.

    An Obama victory in November would be a just and fitting outgrowth of those two movements, and a powerful rejoinder to all who doubt the truth of the phrase itself.

  • Katelyn Perry says:

    So completely inspiring to think of you and the four little ones working for change….

  • Dan Letwin says:

    Thanks too, Chris, for this eloquent posting. It captures what made our little excursion feel so rewarding to me as well, and I’m looking forward to further ones in the vital weeks ahead!
    I’ve also followed with interest your exchanges with Teedo Loder on Martin Luther King’s timeless words on “the arc of the moral universe.” Fyi, King also gave a variant of this address in 1965, at the conclusion of the landmark Selma-to-Montgomery march. Here’s the URL for the text of that speech. (See esp. the “How Long? Not Long” and “arc of moral universe” peroration at the end.)

  • Robyn Spencer says:

    I loved this piece. It gave me some little insight into what you’ve been doing. I could picture the whole scene with the kids rushing around and you two making your case for Obama. Kudos.

  • Dan Letwin says:

    Your posting has inspired others beyond Happy Valley! The following comes from my friend Joe McCartin, who teaches history at Georgetown U.
    “Great blog. You guys should be commended. You’ve motivated me now to cross the Potomac and try to do some canvassing myself.”

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