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Let's Hope New Leadership Acknowledges American Gift of the Vote

November 12, 2000|NAN CANO | Nan Cano teachers English at Agoura High School

Homecoming night this year was cool and brisk. Coats felt good. The evening was filled with kids scurrying around in costumes, loading flats of scenery for the halftime show. A homecoming prince nervously checked out his tuxedo for the march across the football field.

I like seeing my students at the games. The smiles and "Hey! Mrs. Cano!" make us friends beyond the classroom.

The band hurled itself into the national anthem and I looked for the flag. Captured by the spotlight at the other end of the field, the flag floated a bit as the crowd began to sing. People shifted around me and then I saw the flag myself; it was at half-mast.

Of course. Young men and women of the USS Cole had perished on their ship the day before. There would be no dawn's early light for them again. My voice choked out the lyrics to our anthem and, for that moment, I felt close to those brave sailors who died so far away as they made our presence known in the tumultuous Middle East. It was the same flag they raised on their ship, the flag that so enraged madmen who would kill to see it torn down.

It is rare that we think of ourselves as Americans. I do when I travel and people ask curiously what California is really like. I feel the pressure to be all of America, all of California and to describe my home accurately. When astronauts touched down on the moon, my husband and I were in Paris. I remember the night as Parisians stood at every television and clapped us on our shoulders with French jollity. We did that, I thought. I am part of this moment. I am an American.

Recently, I re-read Thoreau's essay "On Civil Disobedience" and it disturbed me. Writing during the pre-Civil War years as slavery flourished in the United States, he refused to pay taxes that he felt would partially support the atrocity. He squirreled himself away in Massachusetts and said he didn't give a fig about roads since he stayed home. Schools? Go away. I will not give you my money. Jail me. Furthermore, he objected to the herds of us who are represented by politicians chosen by remote proxy. We are fooled into thinking these are the best choices possible and we must vote for one of them as president. Bosh, says Thoreau. We vote mindlessly and do nothing, and we deserve mediocrity.

Henry Thoreau might have stayed home digging potatoes at Walden Pond on election day. He would probably have looked askance at both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and sniffed in derision and let his vote lie fallow.

I voted. I made my choice some time ago, and watched the news and papers for confirmation that I was doing the right thing. I voted for someone who would try his best to balance education needs with the environment, needy faces with affluent Wall Street.

The man I voted for would make some colossal mistakes, and the people surrounding him would mitigate those errors and work harder. He would listen to women because they have clear messages to deliver. He would hear children and old people and, somehow, raise the flag every day over all of us.

In his address at the USS Cole memorial service, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig noted that "any true gift is infused with opportunity." The first president of this century has golden opportunities awaiting embedded in the gift we have given him. Danzig went on to recall Thomas Paine's words that link all of us to fallen soldiers and sailors, to parents who are gone, to our past: "What we attain too cheaply, we esteem less dearly. Dearness gives everything its value."

My vote was a dear one, purchased at great price. Together, let us watch the new family move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and hope they adequately acknowledge our American gift.

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