President Obama in our town.

A pretty neat day…
All politics aside, here’s what I learned today:
1) Meeting The President of the United States will take your breath away and make your heart skip a beat. I’m pretty sure this is universal with meeting any President.
2) The US’s current problems will not be fixed by a bunch of finger-pointing shitty partisan politicians. Get over yourselves. Get to know your neighbor. Start at home – on your street or road, and start finding solutions that fix the little problems first.
3) Big problems take time. The Golden Gate Bridge took almost 5 years to build and 11 people died doing it. Think health insurance sucks? It does. But it’s changing and it will get better.
4) Your attitude matters. Our country is not nearly as divided as “they” (whatever…) want you to think – so stop saying it is. Know your neighbor, have lively discussions. Find solutions. Live a grateful life.
I am graciously thankful to have lived today, and meeting our President was an experience I will never forget. Cheers!
By: Benji Nichols
I begin with these words by Benji Nichols, my friend and pillar of our community, because they sum up the experience, and our necessary future direction, perfectly.  Yesterday, President Barack Obama held a town-hall meeting at our beloved Seed Savers Exchange.  Amid the swirl of news coverage and flurry of excitement in our little town — friends trading anecdotes, thoughts, and encounters, in person and of course on Facebook — I’ve noticed, already, some perhaps-inevitable inaccuracies and distortions (for instance, the “prominent Tea Party activist” described here was one guy who stood up during the Q&A and began shouting, out of turn, with no microphone, resisting any polite requests from those around him and from the President himself to wait his turn – and none of us had ever seen him before. “Prominent?”) But overall we are all basking in the glow of renewed hope and optimism in a difficult time. Many of us, including me, had seen this President as a candidate, appearing in front of Koren Hall on our college campus.  And here he was, with so much water under the bridge, and so much more to come.
As we rose to our feet in the trodden grass on the side of the hill to give the Pledge of Allegiance — facing the flag hung on the side of the old wooden barn at the Seed Savers Exchange, on a perfectly brilliant late-summer afternoon — I looked around and realized that after six years here I recognized most of the faces around me in the crowd, young and old, professor and businessperson and farmer, backgrounds similar to and different from me.  I was about to see the president who had beaten historical odds that still haunt my native region — the South — every day, making the past difficult and rich and alive in a way I’ll never fully understand or imaginatively exhaust.  I am the descendent of slaveholders and people who fought against them.  I have argued with people I love about politics and agreed with them about the need to protect our precious environment, as we learn to feed ourselves and the generations who come after us without stripping the earth of its wealth and dignity.  I knocked on doors during the 2008 presidential campaign and deplored the results of this weekend’s straw poll.  I have friends who agree with me and friends who don’t.  As the President observed during his Q&A session, democracy is inevitably messy, inevitably contentious, even though we do have a responsibility to listen to and try to understand one another.  On this day, I felt a part of my community, and I felt a part of my country.  And as I placed my hand over my heart and said the words I learned in first grade, a lump came to my throat: unanticipated, quiet, and genuinely felt.  I am blessed to have been born in this country.  Perhaps patriotism is like faith: a quiet thing, whose greatest power comes when it shakes you inside in the most wordless and private ways.
“So what were your impressions, Amy?” one friend asked. Wow.  Almost too many to name.  The teenage boy — son of a colleague, I am proud to say! — who asked the last question of the evening, a respectful, nuanced, stunningly intelligent question about the influence of money in politics that had the whole crowd cheering even before the President answered.  Peering with my friends into the interior of the black Suburban with its DC government plates that pulled up close to us, giggling, realizing the President wasn’t there, then craning our necks to watch him come down the steps toward the stage, and the thrill of excitement as we all burst into cheers and applause.  The White Park cattle switching their tails in the pen just beyond the stage, the tall grasses and herbs swaying in “Diane’s garden” just beyond the barn, and the rooster in the heirloom-poultry pen who began crowing just as the President was wrapping up his speech. All the reporters in slick-soled shoes, picking gingerly over the grass, tapping on iphones (out-of-towners instantly recognizable by hip eyeglass frames, shoes, and haircuts. :) ) The swiftness and silence with which Secret Service men move through crowds.  The female security agent at the airport-style gate set up on the Visitor’s Center porch who asked me to unfurl my keychain-clipped nylon shopping bag in its pouch — “what IS this?” — but then, after dismissing any threat, said “I’ve never seen one of these! I’ll look for them!”  The impromptu picnic mood as — waiting in the parking lot, back in the fields in the valley, for the President’s staff to announce the all-clear — people strolled from car to car, laughing and talking, looking enviously at the one or two folks who’d thought to bring beer, as journalists stuck in the line climbed onto the roofs of their cars looking for cell-phone signals.
I waved my hand mightily during the Q&A, really wanting to ask one question of the President and of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, who was sitting in the front row: “Given that y’all have chosen to be here with us at Seed Savers today, and given the number of small-scale organic farmers in the audience, what are y’all going to do to continue to support people like us?” Rather than Monsanto, which is currently trying to muscle in on Haitian farmers seeking this same self-sufficiency with “donations” of GMO and hybrid seed? (See here. And here.) They didn’t call on me, but it’s fine — I’ll not only write a letter, I’ll keep thinking of how I can support local economies and local growers and increase my own self-sufficiency. As we talk about how to “rebuild the economy” and what a healthy, sustainable economy that really respects human needs and the planet’s needs looks like, it seems to me this is an obvious solution. See a wonderful (and short) analysis of this here.)
Love of your family and your neighbors and your country and your environment and yourself means action — loving and thoughtful action.  I’m inspired, again, to keep on going.
This entry was posted in community, Driftless region, politics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to President Obama in our town.

  1. You’ve made me feel just a little less desperate. Thank you.

  2. thank you for reading! wish you could have been here. :)

  3. Ryan Gjerde says:

    Hi Amy, I was wondering while watching the webcast who the rude local was, and was happy to hear it wasn’t an area resident. I wondered if the media was describing him as prominent because he is the Iowa Tea Party leader. Of course, we all know what would have happened to that type of interrupter 4-6 years ago…

  4. Wonderful post, although I am a little confused… I didn’t think patriotism was “a quiet thing, whose greatest power comes when it shakes you inside in the most wordless and private ways.” I thought it was where you screamed “freedom freedom freedom” at the top of your lungs. Oh, wait…. ;)

  5. Just when I was feeling so discouraged with American and vowing to become an ex-pat and live somewhere–anywhere–else in the world, you come along and convince me to keep trying. Thanks, Amy

  6. Janeen says:

    It was truly a sweet day, and I wish I could have seen him speak. But, I was a parking lot dweller and got to see his motorcade. His comment that “politics, not government is broken” was spot on. His admonishments that big change isn’t going to come from Washington, that it starts with us were a good kick in the pants too. It reminds me of Gandhi’s often-repeated admonishment that we “be the change we want to see in the world.”

    He waved at my group from the bus, from not too far away. And it took my breath away too, for reasons I can’t quite articulate yet. So genuine and decent — no “flakey-fakey” there. There’s a warmth and kindness. Yet, I thought he looked a little road weary.

    For the most part the dissent and protest I directly witnessed was civil (I wasn’t there for the shout down at Seedsavers) — unlike what I witnessed at the Iowa State Fair last week. Although I didn’t agree with the dissenters, I was proud of our ability to collectively gather in a public space and co-exist peacefully. The crowd was so respectful and compliant with the Secret Service and law enforcement. I just thought we were a classy bunch of folk.

    While the rest of the nation is engaging in politics for sport, shouting one another down, and failing to engage thoughtfully in dialogue I think it would be great if Iowa and Iowans could become known as not only the place of the first political caucus, but also an example of how we can come together and engage in thoughtful, respectful ways. I’d like that to get media attention. What a positive image for Iowa and Iowans.

  7. What an inspirational and thoughtful post! President Obama is indeed a leader of unique skills and I am proud he is leading our nation. I so agree that we need to act locally to show what we support and do it respectfully. There is far too much knee jerk reaction to most things political and this will get us no where. We need compromise and solutions that will not only move our country forward, but cultivate a more patient and tolerant electorate. Kim

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