You must listen to what people sing to know what they really think.

These are words that I had the privilege to hear Vincent Harding speak at the Wild Goose Festival a few weeks ago. He offered beautiful stories and spoke with an intonation that only a person who has accumulated wisdom over time can speak. He told stories of writing speeches for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke of his  community that choose to live together in Chicago, despite racial lines that they crossed, and the frustration they felt at the ease of doing so while there was no feasible way to have such a community in the southern U.S.

He recounted the story of how he and his friends got it in their minds that they would go down to Alabama and meet Dr. King. They looked him up in the phone book, called him, and were invited by his wife to come over for a snack and a chat. Dr. King had just been stabbed in New York and was at home resting in his nightgown when they got there. After conversations, King told Harding that he had too much talent and too much passion to be wasting it in an area that wasn’t as desperate for his voice as the American South. Harding went on to write one of King’s most famous speeches against the Vietnam War. 

When Harding said that we must listen to what people sing to know what they think, he was referencing the oft referred to ‘Civil Rights Movement’ and how he never enjoyed that phrase. The people weren’t singing about their rights, they were singing about their freedom. This is a beautiful distinction. 

The person interviewing him, asked him what his thoughts were on President Obama, his election, and how he felt the President lived up to the expectations of those who voted for him. (This was a very left leaning group of people, nearly all who were openly frustrated with the President’s actions.) I’ve personally been feeling rather let down by Obama, because this was my second presidential race to vote in, and I wasn’t pleased with how I voted the first time…I had high hopes for the past four years. Harding’s answer was reflective and offered a centering point for those who are in my political shoes. 

In a time where it is hip to be cynical and angry about the course that this president has taken us; I believe it is the wrong question to ask ‘What am I disappointed in Obama about?’, but rather the question should be ‘Remember the hope that you felt?’

Harding went on to remind the crowd of how we believed that there WAS the chance for change, how we united around hope, and how much passion was ignited over the chance for sincere social reformation. Our hope was not in one man, but in the chance for change and the opportunity for hope. It doesn’t matter how the past four years have played out for Obama, what matters is that we felt something strike within us and we shouldn’t let it go. 

My political landscape has changed since I voted for Obama, and I don’t know that I’d ever put that much hope into a political candidate again, but the hope that I have and felt in 2008 is still there. 

Hope is a beautiful song to sing. 

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