07/15/2010 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be* ... We Hope

We're constantly asked, "So...what going to happen in November's midterm elections?" Our answer? "Depends -- on what YOU do." Democracy is not for sissies. Or spectators. Clearly, we must liberate Congress from political and social reactionaries, Big Business, small minds and now the Tea-Bangers. They're aggressively blocking the best efforts of our duly elected President, individually and collectively. Gotta go.

How to evict the massive influences of those who do NOT have the sovereign people's welfare at heart? Every one of us must do our part, small or large, one at a time, on the ground. Licking stamps, making phone calls, sending money, ringing doorbells, making phone calls, talking to our neighbors and the people in line at the grocery, wearing the buttons and t-shirts, (did I mention sending money?) and, yes, running for office. That's simply how a representative democracy works**.

So here's a heartening and very current example of how the highly unlikely can unseat the apparently intractable. Yesterday, I called a close friend in Alabama. The excitement in her voice was contagious. For decades she's been a behind-the-scenes player in local and state politics. Her stories have ranged from dismaying, distressing and disillusioning to disheartening.

But her undying hope was always accompanied by action.

She'd get back up from one defeat to fight another day on another front. And so did a lot of other people. Year after year, election after election, doing the hard work it takes to keep alive a flickering progressive spark in the face of the apparently irredeemable. This is, after all, Alabama we're talking about here.

Tuesday night, something wonderful happened. After more than a year of incredibly hard work, Selma native Terri Sewell is now well positioned to be the first woman in Alabama ever elected to Congress in her own right. She is also African-American.

Ms. Sewell did not "need" to run for Congress. She's been notably successful in everything she's ever attempted. She's already made enormous contributions to her home state of Alabama, among other things raising badly need bond monies for under-served educational institutions. In her adopted hometown of Birmingham, she helped make possible the first-ever domestic violence municipal court there. And on and on. She's talented, accomplished, smart (very smart) and an active citizen. Isn't that enough? Well, no.

Terri Sewell had no political ambitions! As the story goes, it was someone else, far away, who looked at Congress and started considering possibilities, starting with open seats in the House. Now, I have to tell you. I lived in Alabama for almost 20 years. My husband was born and raised there. Frankly, fixing Congress starting in Alabama would never have not occurred to me. Shame on me!

But someone somewhere saw an open Congressional seat in Alabama. Not just any seat. District 7: Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and seven counties in Alabama's "Black Belt" including Dallas County where Selma is the county seat. Yes, THAT Selma known to the world for its rightly iconic Pettus Bridge. Reportedly, the question was posed, "Know somebody, anybody, in Alabama who would be good in Congress?"

The question took on a life of its own. After an almost comical cascade of one friend who knew a person who thought she'd heard someone say something about somebody who called someone else, who then did in fact remember a former schoolmate who finally did pick up the phone to call Ms. Sewell (six times, as it turned out, since the first five attempts were deflected.) It was she who asked Terri Sewell, private citizen, if she'd consider running for United States Congress.

Yes, we need the Terri Sewell's of this country to step up to the proverbial plate. And, no, the Terri Sewells of this world do not spring full grown from the forehead of any gods, sectarian or secular. In 1965, Ms. Sewell's grandparents did welcome weary marchers on their rural homestead along U.S. Route 80, making their way from Selma to Montgomery. As historic as Ms. Sewells' mother Nancy Gardner Sewell's election to Selma's City Council most assuredly was, to my mind it was equally important that Mrs. Sewell impacted thousands of youngsters, developing elementary school libraries in the Selma City Schools, actively advocating for literacy, implementing an "Accelerated Reader's Program," and revitalizing the Selma-Dallas Youth and Government Council. (Terri's Dad also was a distinguished Selma educator.)***

What will be our reality when the polls close November 2, 2010? Will the Palinistas, tea-bangers, know-nothings and Gingrichs of our extremist political wrong wing take out another "contract on America"? Or will we support the President we clearly mandated to lead us elsewhere, into a productive future in spite of the drag of our past? Will we act responsibly to reconstitute a Congress ready to do what it will take to move us out of "40 years in the Wilderness" of corporatist, fundamentalist and reactionary politics-as-usual? The President has done pretty well with a dysfunctional Congress. He can do much better with lawmakers who work for us, not corporations and other paymasters.

As Jim Brown famously said to his friend Richard Pryor, "Whatcha gonna do?" What will happen is what we make happen.


* -- Yogi Berra
** -- For a powerful lesson from the past, Bruce Watson's Freedom Summer: The Savage Season that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy is a clear lesson from 1964 that it takes every single one of us to awaken us from political nightmares.
*** -- In his memoir, A Writer's Life, Gay Talese provides another, refreshing view of Selma.