I was raised in a Republican household. My dad was a 30-year career Marine. He fought in Vietnam for two consecutive years, and even though he was conservative in his political views, he kept them to himself. Because any President, regardless of political party, was always his commander-in-chief, his duty was to follow orders, and he did it well. At 18, I registered as an Independent and later changed my party affiliation when I was able to clearly define my political values. I have volunteered for local and national Democratic campaigns for many years, but I have never before been as involved as I am this year. For one thing, New Mexico stands to gain Democratic seats across the board, and so there is much work to do. I started out the year at the Obama headquarters in Albuquerque, after having witnessed an Obama speech in person. At that speech, there was no denying that Obama had a gift of connecting with people. After the caucus, I ran for and won a seat as a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and in so winning, I am obligated to campaign for the Senator, which I do happily everyday.
I could state that I support Obama because he cares about the environment, or that he has promised to appoint an Indian Policy Advisor in the White House; or that he staunchly supports the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act of 2007, which he cosponsored; or that he supports Indian language preservation funding, increased funding for Head Start and Indian education, including school construction; or that he cosponsored the Combat Meth Act of 2005, which funds tribal police, programs, and courts. I could also state that his education is commendable and that he only went to Harvard Law School because he was smart and worked extremely hard. I could also state that since the beginning of his campaign, his words have inspired millions of Americans to support him with unprecedented monetary support, time, and energy; and that he has brought millions of people into the political process. This does mean a great deal, because Obama gives the credit to us—it is our campaign.
For a political junkie like me, every little bit matters. During the primary, I met Susan Rice, Obama’s Foreign Policy Advisor at the Albuquerque headquarters. I asked her if I could speak to her about an issue regarding language in an Obama victory speech and asked whether she could take my concerns to the appropriate individual in the campaign. She gave me her undivided attention for about twenty minutes. I stated that the speech had made reference to pioneers traveling into a “vast wilderness.” I explained to Ms. Rice that there was no such thing; that Indians had inhabited the entirety of North America for several thousands of years and that although 99.9% of Americans would not find the phrase objectionable, I did, and so that means others did also. She thanked me for bringing this to her attention, gave me the email address to Obama’s head speech-writer, and asked me to copy her on the email I would send. Since that time, references such as these have been erased from any subsequent speeches. This campaign’s ability to listen to us is most-likely another good reason for its amazing success.
On Saturday, October 18, we held an early vote rally at the Pueblo of Laguna Rec. Hall, and the Secretary of the NM Indian Affairs Department, Alvin Warren, of Santa Clara Pueblo spoke. He stated that he had personally met Barack Obama three times, upon visits to NM. Secretary Warren stressed Obama’s uniqueness and his genuine ability to listen to the concerns present in our Indian Communities—and to not just give a two-minute appeasement speech and move on. He also outlined Obama’s support of legislative issues that further our agenda, and professed his trust in our candidate. Secretary Warren’s speech received a resounding applause, because we know that we deserve such attention, we rarely receive it, and it pleased us to hear a state official of this caliber validate our decision to support our candidate.
At Obama’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field in Denver, I felt satisfied at the idea that my efforts, in conjunction with millions of others, resulted in putting him on that stage. I believe he is the best candidate for my land and people, for our country, and for the world, and I am proud to voice my support for him.
As Barack Obama has often said, “This is our time.” We have a profound opportunity to vote for the change we need and we can do that today. Please vote.
Debra A. Haaland