In the beginningWritten by Karl Rundgren | | firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Valentine’s Day is two weeks past, but the presidential candidates are still aggressively wooing Northwest Ohio with a lot more than candies and roses. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in particular have been criss-crossing the Buckeye State, holding rally after rally, hoping to secure the nomination on March 4. But as I watch their speeches and rallies, a strange image keeps filling my mind, over and over again. I think of a suitcase.
I first saw this suitcase stashed in a closet at my grandmother’s house. It was black, quite old, and written on the front in a determined hand was a name: Aagot Rundgren. I wondered what it was, so I asked about it, and was told that it had belonged to my great-grandmother. More importantly, it was one of the suitcases that she had carried on the boat when she crossed from Norway to America.
I still can’t imagine what it was that convinced her and her husband to leave everything they knew to cross an ocean, taking a chance on a growing country. They believed so strongly in the American Dream — so completely — that they were willing to risk everything to pursue it. That’s change.
Of course, many Americans didn’t choose to come to this country. Countless Africans were forced here in deplorable conditions, then made to live and work as slaves. A Civil War finally brought them the promise of freedom and the right to vote, but racism and segregation denied them their rights. Finally, after another century of violent intolerance, a steady string of determined protests restored the rights they had been guaranteed. That’s change.
Women are no strangers to struggle. First they marched in the streets for the right to vote, then the right to work, and later for equal pay. Over the years they fought their way into the voting booth and the workplace, and are now reaching leadership positions. That’s change.
African-Americans watching this Democratic Presidential contest can see an African-American candidate winning states and delegates, as well as the hearts and minds of voters. Women can see one of their own doing the same. While people will comment on this, the truly amazing thing is that it’s not with disapproval, but simply as fact. These campaigns have gone from impossible to discouraged to unique to accepted. That’s change.
Perhaps that’s why change is at the center of the Democratic contest, a re-occurring theme like a steady drumbeat. Barack Obama has tried to claim it as his own, making that word the dominant part of his campaign signs — even larger than his own name. Hillary Clinton also promises vast changes, in particular a drastic change in policy after eight years of George Bush.
Still, regardless of who wins this contest, and who ultimately wins in November, change has already happened.
I’ve been covering politics for years, and I have never seen a race like this; not because of the people running, but because of the excitement running through voters. I know people in their late 50s saying the exact same thing, watching with near disbelief. People who may have never voted before, who didn’t even believe in the process, are now waiting in line to vote early. Others who were merely casual voters are now volunteering for the campaigns, making phone calls and fighting for their candidate. There have always been political junkies, but now passive voters are waking up.
For the first time in my life, I am seeing people who are willing to invest themselves in this process and work to bring about some sort of change. It might not work out. Their candidate might not win enough votes, and even if they do get elected, they might not be able to pass the mandates they promised during the campaign. Still, people are willing to try, willing to take a chance and hope that things will ultimately be better.
I understand the drive that led Aagot and Nels Rundgren to get on that boat a century ago, clinging to a few suitcases. I understand how they could stand on the deck of a ship, watching a new home come into view, craving a new beginning — because all beginnings are impossible without the desire for change.
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News.