Yesterday, Barack Obama gave a speech likely to become part of the pantheon of great American political speeches and moral speeches. A More Perfect Union is impressive, overwhelming even, on many levels. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you haven’t read it, read it. Having listened to it twice and read it many more, each revisit sparks different ways of thinking about and reacting to it. Yet, a gap remains and the sense of a gap even strengthens with each visit to it.
I read, then watched, then read in the speech in the context
of Take Back America
, most specifically a luncheon session
the same day as the speech: “The New Green Deal
.” This was a must-do event for me, a chance to see Majora Carter
(see Sustainable South Bronx on the blogroll) in person. For those not aware, Majora Carter and Van Jones
(see Green for All on the blogroll) are two of the most (if not the most) eloquent voices, along with being effective activists, for environmental justice in the US today. I’ve had the chance to see Jones before and speak with him before. I had never actually seen Carter speak and, regrettably, had held off on blogging about her until I had that chance. Carter did not disappoint. She spoke passionately, emotionally, joyously, and painfully while providing insight on how to and hope to achieve change in some of the harshest terrain of the nation. (You too can see her
Obama’s speech was (is
) magnificent, with a richness and complexity that is stunning millions. And, the power of the messaging comes in part that we strengthen us all by dealing with “crumbling schools”, etc. This is a speech, a message of confronting reality openly, embracing it for its strengths and weaknesses, and building on it to make tomorrow better. These are not the messages that have propelled American politics, certainly not in recent decades.
Now, I consider Obama in the context of seeing Carter that same day. Within Obama’s speech, there was a missing element, a hole that matters. Considering Energy Smart’s focus (energy / global warming) and Carter’s comments/life, Obama’s speech seemed to miss the mark when it came to a color to help foster that More Perfect Union. Consider this paragraph about legitimate reason for resentment from the African American community.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
Yes, these are all quite real but did Obama miss part of the mark within this comment and laying out a path for A More Perfect Union? Could Obama have had a few words, a few sentences on how adding another color to mix provides us (US) a path for addressing these very real weaknesses and risks while creating new strengths and opportunities? While “parks” are part of the equation, we can help address some of the most serious, most intractable problems in this nation through ‘going Green’. Green Jobs for All
is a reality. That is, if we fight to make it happen. We can green our cities, lowering pollution while providing good jobs. We can locate urban-appropriate industry rather than jails. We can pursue win-win-win Green strategies that could help address the very serious divides and very serious challenges that Obama raised in his speech.
As Majora reminded at lunch, “Environmental Justice
seeks to redress inequitable distributions of environmental burdens (pollution, industrial facilities, crime, etc.) and access to environmental goods (nutritious food, clean air & water, parks, recreation, health care, education, transportation, safe jobs, etc.).” If one maps the disinfranchised in the electoral system, you will find a heavy overlap with areas suffering from the worst sort of polluting industries. If you map poverty, you will map illnesses through pollution.
“A More Perfect Union” was (is) a magnificent speech. A speech that took, head up, addressing color in America. I just want to throw another color into the mix in how we can consider this (these) challenge(s) and how to address them.