Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

It happened. It's real. Barack Obama is our new President. How wonderful my sister could be there. At least one person in the family was eye-witness to an historic event. I spoke to her on the phone this evening. She spent Monday night sleeping on the floor at her work's offices (The Wilderness Society) in downtown DC. Then she and a work colleague walked two miles to the Mall, to their ticketed space in the Blue zone on the Capitol lawn. They were on the far right side, so they couldn't see faces, but one of those giant screens was right in front of them. She says she wore three layers of clothing, gloves, a scarf, hat and ear warmers. I think they had to walk miles afterwards to get around some of the streets that were closed. But it's good to know she was there, representing all of us, her family and friends.

I was happy to see the announcement yesterday of Rebuild America Together (USAservice.org). I was hoping the Obama administration would start some kind of public service initiative. My sister and I are members of a small group of Obama supporters, Voices for Change, part of his grass-roots community organizing effort. As a group we agreed we're more interested in serving our community in a non-partisan way, rather than doing things that are seen as particularly Democratic interests. At our first meeting we agreed to donate food to the local Food Bank on a monthly basis. We also decided on local mass transit as a project we were interested in working towards. We plan to make a presentation to the mayor of Boise about it. Some of our members worked at the Food Bank yesterday as part of the nation-wide community service effort for Rebuild American Together.

It's another meeting to add to my schedule, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to actually DO something, not just talk about my social and political convictions.

For the same reason I've decided to contribute to the Central Asia Institute. If you've read "Three Cups of Tea", about Greg Mortenson's efforts to build schools in villages of remote border areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a special emphasis on educating girls, you'll know what I'm talking about.

We don't have a lot of extra money right now, but I can give up going to Starbucks at least once a week and put that money into my Pennies for Peace jar. If we want any kind of lasting peace in that area, it's in our nation's best interests to help the children there get an education. That's going to do more good towards long-term peace than any military action.

The schools Mortensen builds provide a balanced education based on a curriculum decided by a consensus of the villagers themselves. Education is one of the most effective ways to combat extremist religious beliefs, and give people the tools to improve their lives. Many studies show educating the girls is especially important. Educating girls and women helps the whole community by bringing more economic opportunity and productivity, reducing child mortality, improving family nutrition and health, and makes it more likely the children of those educated women will go to school.

I lived overseas for seven years altogether. Living in other countries is a great way to see your nation through other eyes - even when the view isn't all that complimentary. Living overseas also teaches you that even though people appear to be very different on the outside, we're really pretty similar on the inside. Being the greatest nation on earth doesn't mean we haven't made mistakes. But sometimes the negative perceptions people in other countries have of Americans is caused more by miscommunication and misunderstanding about each other than any particular thing we've done.

The US has lost a lot of credibility in the last eight years. I'm hoping with the new administration America will begin to re-establish itself as a credible force for good in the wider world. By helping people in other counties we'll be helping ourselves as well.

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