By Peter Fenn | Contributor USNews & World Report
Nov. 16, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.
You were born the day after Valentine’s Day, Feb. 15, 2016, bringing great joy to your parents, grandparents and your 93-year old great grandfather (and many others!). You are the first of the new generation in our family. You were also born as the campaign of 2016 was in full swing. You were born during a time when we had the first woman nominated by a major party for president of the United States, raising the memory of my grandmothers who were born when women did not have the right to vote. You were proudly taken to the polls by your parents for the very first time before you were even a year old.
We watched you grow this past year as you thrill us with each passing day, your constant smile, your cheerful engagement with all that you experienced; you are such a happy baby and so fortunate to have loving parents and nurturing surroundings.
But I want to write you today not only about the election we just went through but the world you will inherit, shape and grow up in.
Many are not as lucky as you are. Many live in a world, at home and abroad, that is torn by strife, economic hardship and war. Many are victims of hatred and prejudice because of their religion, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin or where they come from. Many feel left out, ignored, looked down upon by the powers that be in our society. Many are victims of fear created by others to advance themselves. Many are frustrated and angry with their government.
Sometimes it is easier in political campaigns to fan the flames of division and discord than to offer up ideas for making things better. You will find growing up that you will be confronted by people who are mean or simply don’t understand the effect of saying something that is hurtful. You will find you have disagreements or differences of opinion that can escalate and bring out the worst in yourself and others. You will get angry, you will say things you don’t mean that are petty; you will not, alas, be a perfect person. No one is. But, I suspect, you will grow up to be a woman of unbelievable talent and grace, who will be a source of great pride and wonder.
I am glad, in many ways, you did not experience this campaign of 2016. It was not a source of pride, as it should have been, with our first woman nominee, but a source of some revulsion. It was full of petty and mean rhetoric – anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, full of fear – by the man who was ultimately elected president. Now, just two weeks after the election, many hope that this man will change and become more civil and more of a unifier than a divider. We will see; I wish I were more optimistic.
My grandmothers would never have tolerated the language used during the primaries and the general election, the debates on the Republican side, the takeover of Twitter to hurl insults and invectives. They would not have recognized their country during this past year. Nor, my guess, would have the past presidents. Nor did many of us. In a year when the transformative musical “Hamilton” highlighted the diversity and greatness of our country, we sadly went in the opposite direction with the Republican candidate for president. I so hope you will experience the extraordinary cultural phenomenon of “Hamilton” and understand how it affected so many.
But I want to write you about what kind of America I see for you and what kind of America I want you to grow up in. By the time you are old enough to shape this world, I hope that we can at least bring it back from this campaign of the year of your birth to what America has been in its finest hours – kind, tolerant, respectful, honorable and, yes, loving. An America that is increasingly diverse and vibrant with people of all religions, all nationalities, all colors, all sexual orientations, who live with and respect one another.
This is more important than I can express. We can overcome a lot in America if we don’t disintegrate into a country that pits white against Black and Hispanic, straight against LGBT, rural against urban, Christian against Muslim. We have had the benefit of an extraordinary president these past years, Barack Obama, who you will read about in your history books and may even have the honor of meeting one day.
Here is what I hope we do for you in the coming months and years, Gwen. I hope we stand up tall against prejudice by supporting groups and organizations and people who need our help. I hope we march and protest and write letters and Facebook feeds and talk to neighbors and friends and relatives, to listen and bring people together, not tear them apart. I hope we don’t retreat and give up on politics because it is hard, but double down because it is important. I hope we cooperate when we can but are not afraid to confront when it is necessary. I hope we do what many of us did when defeat hit us in the gut in 1980: We form new groups and support old ones that bring about the kind of change that moves us forward into the light. We fight for the issues that matter – health care for all Americans, a protected environment that you can live and breathe in, jobs that matter and pay a decent wage, equal rights for all, a more educated and informed citizenry, a program of universal service in America so that everyone gives back.
There’s still cause for political optimism in the midst of a disheartening campaign season.
At the end of the day, Gwen, I hope you come of age when people believe in their government again, when they appreciate and understand that it is really about all of us and that it is a source for good. You should know that the people who serve in government are dedicated people who are doing their very best to help others, and should not be the subject of derision and cynical attacks. I hope that the campaign of 2016 won’t be a precursor of what is to come but an aberration that we will figure out how to overcome. Fear and intimidation should not be normal for our country and as you grow up I pray that we have the courage and the conviction and the ability to reverse the trend towards division and hate and prejudice.
Finally, I hope those of us who have a chance to make a difference choose to do so and don’t shrink from the responsibility, but welcome it. When your mother was a little girl, just after she was born actually, I worked for a wonderful woman, Geraldine Ferraro. She was a lot like Hillary Clinton and ran for vice president in 1984. Your grandma gave me her biography after the campaign, with a little inscription supposedly from your mom (not yet 3 years old): “Happy Birthday to Daddy – if she could do it, I could do it! Love, Kristina.” When I showed it to Gerry Ferraro, Gwen, she put another inscription underneath to your mother: “To Kristina, the campaign of ’84 was for you!”
We are not done yet, but we will get there.
So, to my granddaughter, it is for you that we will fight to make sure that, as Hillary said, “women’s rights are human rights,” and that we are, in America, “stronger together.” And I can assure you that we will never give up, or give in to the politics of irrationalism and fear, but instead, we will seek a newer and better world. Because you, and so many others, deserve no less.
Love from your Grandpa