What I didn’t mention in my long post about being in Denver was that Claudia’s daughter, Elisha, and her friend Liz took me along to hear Barack Obama speak at the University of Denver last Wednesday, January 30. The lines were huge and we ran a little late. Consequently, by the time we got to the auditorium it was completely full and we were shuffled off to a basketball court to watch him speak on the big screen.

We noticed a microphone in the middle of the court surrounded by a small barricade and went directly there, right in front. We didn’t know what it was for and certainly didn’t believe Obama would come in here. But much to our surprise he did just that. He shook hands, kissed a baby (honestly!), and then spoke to us for about 5 minutes before doing the same thing to all those outside the facility who hadn’t been able to get inside at all; all this before being introduced by Caroline Kennedy and beginning his official speech.

I’ve waited until now to post this information because I was waiting for this link to a slide show of photos from the Rocky Mountain News that I just received from Harold Fields (thanks, Harold!). If you scroll to photo number 3 (of 12), I’m at the very top of the picture. The “R” in “Rocky Mountain” is in the middle of my forehead. Directly below me are Liz (on the left with big hair and even bigger smile) and Elisha (just to Liz’s right, directly below my outstretched arm). You can sort of see us again in photo number 8, off to the right. I’m holding up my camera (which blocks my face) taking a photo.

I must say that our initial disappointment at not getting into the main auditorium (people in the front row arrived at 5:30 in the morning and he began speaking shortly before 11), was replaced by the excitement of having him speak to us from just a few feet away.

I’ve thought a lot about this election. I heard Bill Clinton on television a short time ago saying that he’s waited all his life to be able to vote for an African American for president as well as to be able to vote for a woman for president. Who could have imagined the irony that both options would happen at the same time in 2008?

In yesterday’s Oregonian was a commentary piece that speaks directly to the issues Democrats must contend with in this primary election, and important thoughts for everyone to contemplate. It’s called A Question of Sexism and Racism. Though I’ve linked to it, I’m also going to paste it below because I’m not sure how the Oregonian archives work and how long it’ll be on their site…

A Question of Sexism and Racism

Sunday, February 03, 2008
Patrick Vala-Haynes: In My Opinion

Dinner chat reveals fractious social issues

My wife, Robbie, and I were having dinner in a trendy restaurant recently — something we occasionally treat ourselves to now that our children are out of college — when we couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation at the next table.

A young woman, maybe 20, was being introduced to her boyfriend’s family. When asked what she was studying in college, she stated simply: “women’s studies.” That produced a few titters and giggles, not to mention the inevitable question from the boy’s father: “What good is that? I didn’t know anyone had to study women.”

To be fair, I think he was simply trying to make conversation, maybe take measure of this woman his son had fallen in love with. Apparently, the young woman was used to defending her choice of study, as she spoke eloquently of the value of all liberal arts studies.

Still, she seemed alone at the table of eight. No one jumped to her defense. Several joined in the attack with cliched concerns about unisex bathrooms and women reporters in locker rooms.

I squeezed Robbie’s hand. She squeezed back — hard. She had earned a B.A. in women’s studies and history in 1976. Three years before she graduated, about 35 years ago, we made a bet — a bet that neither of us has yet to win.

This is where youthful innocence gets ugly. I contended (and still do) that racism is more ingrained in American culture than sexism. I think a woman will be elected president before a black man. Robbie — well, Robbie is a woman. She reminds me that blacks were able to vote, more or less, decades before women.

Maybe this speaks to the cynicism of our ’60s politics more than anything else. We’ve lived with a sneering kind of hope that has little to do with issues or even the changing political climate. While we care greatly what our mythical president’s politics might be, we also know we are grasping at symbols.

The conversation at the next table swung back and forth between the father and the young woman. Our table was silent, but hardly without communication.

How many times had Robbie had this conversation in the ’70s? How many times had I gone on the defense about being an English major? At least I was studying something people took for granted as being worthless. With feminism, people’s need to prove its lack of value has always been more of a crusade.

And apparently still is.

That’s why Robbie thinks a black man will be president before a woman. I’ve even opened up the bet to Asians, Latinos and men of Middle Eastern descent. I want her to win as much as she wants me to win.

After dinner we joined our twentysomething children for dessert. We relayed the dinner conversation to them. Our daughter rolled her eyes and settled in for another of her parents’ rants. Robbie told how she had laid a hand on the young woman’s shoulder and said, “Keep on battling.”

That put her on the spot, I’d argued. Of course I was right — while being wrong. Go ahead. Put her on the spot. Keep her there, but let her know she’s not alone.

Our son interrupted the story. “Who’s going to win?”

We each have our arguments but have come to the obvious answer.

We don’t care who wins. But we want one of us to win in our lifetime. We need a symbol that doesn’t merely speak to aspirations but actually fulfills them. Long ago, as young, politically bitter Americans, we made a bet either of us would be proud and happy to lose.

Patrick Vala-Haynes lives in the Yamhill County town of Carlton.