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Elizabeth Austin Headshot

An Invitation to Governor Palin

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After too many long, obsessive days of inhaling campaign coverage nonstop, I was overflowing with ugliness. I had convinced myself that Sarah Palin and her neocon cheering section were intentionally trying to whip their angry supporters into homicidal frenzy.

I had started to fear that, somewhere in a desk drawer in McCain headquarters, there was polling data suggesting that only national shock, grief and rage would yield a Republican victory -- and that the GOP was willing to condone the unthinkable in pursuit of victory.

I needed some fresh air. So I grabbed my bike and headed out to my favorite path -- a long trail winding through a restored prairie in DuPage County. Hastert country.

I pedaled furiously past tall grass and cottony milkweed, still overflowing with waves of partisan rage. But then I started noticing the people sharing the forest preserve -- teenagers posing for homecoming pictures, young families on bicycles, older couples walking hand-in-hand. And I was suddenly overwhelmed by the generosity of the DuPage County property owners who had willingly paid taxes to create and maintain this beautiful refuge, and who freely opened its gates to everyone -- including Democratic out-of-towners like me.

As I rode my bike through the carefully restored prairie, I realized that Sarah Palin's skewed, constricted vision of urban America has been shaped by movies, television shows and newscasts offering gory, violent visions of city life. She doesn't know that my block, my neighborhood, my Midwestern community are as tightly interwoven, as truly American, as her own hometown.

I reminded myself that Sarah Palin was just a little girl in a tiny Alaska town when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She has never taken the El through Chicago's West Side and seen decades-old scars of boarded-up buildings and vacant lots -- the miles of barren landscape left behind when thousands of hearts were suddenly, violently broken. She can't comprehend the fierce, fragile, and fearful hope that Senator Obama inspires in inner-city neighborhoods across America, and the pain that her ill-chosen words inflict on citizens who have been told for generations that they are not part of the "real America."

Finally exhausted, I stood beside my bike to watch a perfect Midwestern sunset. And I thought about another evening more than five years ago, when a friend dragged me to my neighbor's backyard to meet a state legislator who was beginning a hopeless campaign for the U.S. Senate. There, for the first time, I heard Barack Obama speak earnestly and intelligently about his vision for America. As I listened, I knew in my heart that here, at last, was the real deal. And I felt a sudden, reckless surge of hope for the future of our country.

Sarah Palin and her furious, overwrought supporters call me and my neighbors anti-American because they don't know us -- and we respond in kind because we don't know them, either. But if Barack Obama wins this election, we owe it to him and to our shared national future to drop the invective, the insults, the relentless snark. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together.

Once this election is over, I invite Sarah Palin to visit my little slice of the "real America." If she comes with an open heart and mind, she will see that we grow good people -- good parents, good children, good workers and good friends -- in our suburbs and in our cities, just like we do in our small towns. And no matter where we live and who we vote for, we love our country.

So come to Illinois, Governor Palin. And bring your bike.