Letter From Lansing

A swing-state mom sees the election through her daughter's eyes.

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Michigan is once again one of the crucial states that could determine the outcome of this election. There will be a lot of strategizing between now and November. We want answers to our battered economy and our record foreclosure rate. We want to know about health care and the survival of the middle class.

At a Michigan Women for Obama meeting, some female star power of the campaign, including Democratic National Committee Vice-Chair Susan Turnbull, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Judge Glenda Hatchett, met to discuss how Democrats were going to get Barack Obama elected.

The scene took me back 40 years when a group of black people met in my grandparents' tiny living room in Gary, Indiana to get to know a young lawyer named Richard Gordon Hatcher. They were strategizing about his run for mayor, which would have made him the first black chief executive of a major American city.

But this was bigger than my grandparents' meeting. The crowd was more diverse, and the stakes were much higher. This time around I got a chance to see the process through my 23-year-old daughter's young eyes. The meeting felt old school to me, except that I was taking copious notes for my blog, and my daughter, Nicole, a recent broadcasting grad armed with a video camera, was taping her first political story.

After Nicole heard Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, she wanted to know more about his political agenda. More importantly, I saw her begin to figure out what she cared about, separate from the opinions of her parents.

Nicole wanted to know if her generation really wouldn't do as well as my generation, as Rep. Maloney suggested. She's started to understand that race still matters, and that her candidate could lose because some white people still can't see themselves voting for a black man. She was shocked to hear the rumor that the Republican Party may be making moves to disenfranchise Michigan voters who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Judge Hatchett talked about equal pay for equal work, the possible loss of Roe v. Wade through just one conservative Supreme Court Judge appointment, she said, "Our young women have been privileged. They don't know what it's like to live without that right." I don't even think Nicole has ever paid much attention to Roe v. Wade, but she knows that she doesn't want to lose any rights, whether she ever needs them or not.

Like many young voters who cast their first presidential votes in the 2004 presidential election, Nicole was heartbroken when her guys didn't win. And even though there has been a 24/7 flood of campaign news, she hasn't had the up-close and personal political experiences I had growing up.

That meeting on plastic-covered couches in 1968 wasn't my first exposure to the political process. I lived in a world of community organizers, church-basement fish frys and voter-registration rallies. I stuffed flyers in envelopes and held up picket signs. By the time I had turned 13, I had seen two Kennedys and King killed. By the time I got into my teens, it was a world I had come to hate. So with my own children, I never pushed them to a deeper involvement in the political process.

The only evidence of that previous life my kids ever saw was my addiction to Meet the Press. "Why do you watch that every Sunday," they'd ask. I shrugged it off because it seemed too complicated to explain that my grandparents insisted that I watch it with them. "You have to know your world," my grandfather would say, and the world was different then.

Hatchett quoted Martin Luther King Jr. when she said: "We might have come here on different boats, but we're all in the same boat now." That seemed to be the perfect answer for a young woman trying to get a grip on the complexities of her time. And the power of the words was just enough to know that she not only has a place on the boat, but has her thinking and planning on how she can help steer it to the kind of America she would like to see.

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