Curtis Faith: Obama and Jehovah’s Witnesses

My mom was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and she dragged us from the decidedly upscale Harvard, MA to the decidedly blue-collar Leominster which prided itself in being the “Plastics Capital of the World” and for us teens the town where Aerosmith got its start. It was through my friendships with the sons and lustful adoration for the daughters of the factory and construction workers of Leominster and the slightly more downscale Fitchburg that I came to see me own privilege. It didn’t quite seem fair that my friends were learning about sex by witnessing blow jobs in the lunchroom while I was learning calculus and Latin in public schools…separated by less than ten miles. Many of my poorer friends were quite smart. As smart or better than my wealthier Harvard counterparts. Yet they didn’t have a chance competing against their richer counterparts.

As I grew into an adult living a comfortable afternoon bike’s ride from the site of the battled of Lexington and Concord, I was awed by the great American men of the past: Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. I wasn’t taught much about the great women but that didn’t strike me as odd at the time.

At 19, I set out to make my mark as a precocious punk. I earned my way into an exclusive trading apprenticeship program being run by one of the most famous traders in Chicago, Richard Dennis. The program was wildly successful and I found myself a millionaire many times over at only 21 years. It was part my own efforts, part luck, and part white privilege, but it gave me a view of America that is stubbornly consistent.

You see, I fell in love with a daughter of a long-time friend of my moms who happened to also be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Us children were tolerant but not enthusiastic but the Witnesses served as the focus of our social network for many years to come. This experience was invaluable because it allowed me to keep my soul under circumstances which have ruined many far stronger than I am.

I was a millionaire with my own Beechcraft Baron 58P airplane, a house on Lake Tahoe with three boats, a Porsche 911 Cabriolet, four new snowmobiles and a lot of other stuff that I once thought was valuable.

Yet, my friends were mainly plumbers, carpet layers, and undocumented Mexicans who washed dishes or cleaned the hotel rooms for the rich tourists who came up every weekend and who helped me become fluent in Spanish. Some of my friends were so poor that three families lived in a trailer. I’m not talking about a trailer that was designed to be lived in, I’m talking a trailer that was designed for the occasional camping trip. This was two steps down from a “trailer trash” trailer. These people were poor. Yet they were incongruently happy and fun and most of all wonderfully human.

The thing is, I liked my poor friends far more than most of the wealthy people I had met. So it didn’t seem right that America was so hard for some yet so easy for others. It also didn’t seem to me that the rich, for all their power and privilege were actually benefiting themselves. As a class they were more stressed, more lonely, and more angry than the poor I knew.

After I grew bored of trading which allowed me to make millions of dollars without having to learn anything new, I started several small software companies. I wanted to make the world a better place by improving people’s lives through better products. I had some successes and some failures and learned that I cared far more about doing something interesting and great than about making money.

I also grew to see that there were good people in all religions and even among the heathens and atheists, I left all association with Jehovah’s Witnesses (and by corollary my wonderful wife) and started to think more about how I might make my own mark in this world.

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses are apolitical and do not vote, I had been able to spend my most formative years as an impartial observer. So having left an organization where I could help save the world by preaching, I started studying politics. It seemed that things were screwed up and needed some fixing. I thought perhaps I could help.

I spent a year studying politics, attending campaigning seminars, conservative seminars. I even went back to school and attended the University or Reno for a while. I tried to learn what it was that motivated people, I joined the gay and lesbian groups even though I am straight, I joined the black student groups, the Hispanic student groups.

I came to find out that we are all just humans. Everyone just wanted a fair shot at a dignified life where they were not persecuted or coddled. One were respect was the rule. This didn’t seem like too much to ask then and still doesn’t now.

It was at this point that I first learned about the great movements in the U.S. The abolishionists, the unionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights leaders, and how the U.S. had conducted itself after World War II when through the Marshall Plan we helped rebuild Europe and Asia. Through my studies, I grew to be very proud of America and what it has represented through the years.

Yet as the 2000 presidential campaigns started up and I was trying to figure out who I wanted to help, I became disillusioned. At first, I thought Giuliani might be good, he seemed like a moderate but as I talked with those who knew more about him I became concerned that he was not as he appeared. Friends from New York reaffirmed problems with his approach and character.

I viewed myself as a moderate, an independent who leaned Republican. Over the years I have come to see the whole characterization of Left and Right as part of the problem, so I don’t use these labels anymore. Most of the people I knew from business were Republicans and most of the people I knew socially were Democrats.

But they were all just human beings. From my experience, there were good honest and nice people among both groups. There were also self-righteous jerks and dishonest thieves in both groups.

It was about this time – about nine years ago this July – that I visited with some old high-school friends at an old family retreat up in Maine that belonged to one of my best friends. I was fired up with enthusiasm for changing the world and politics. I was convinced that I could make a difference.

I told my friends that I felt we needed new leadership. That we needed a President who would stop looking at Left and Right and one who would unite the people around common values instead of dividing them with uncommon differences. I knew that most people really didn’t like waste in government whether Democrat or Republican; that most people wanted better schools; that most people wanted to help the poor have greater opportunity. I felt like the problem was not the American people but American leadership. I told my friends that if I ever found someone who was a great leader that I would do everything I could to help both in the campaign and afterward.

I searched and hunted in the 2000 campaign for a candidate who represented this kind of leadership.

We got George W.

I moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands to make some money trading so I could use it for philanthropic work, and in the process I learned a lot more about prejudice and ghetto schools. I taught an after-school reading program for a year that showed me the depth of the tragedy in our education. These kids were wonderful. Yet their classrooms were beyond comprehension. We adults were failing them. Are failing them.

I became friends with bartenders and waitresses and drug dealers and coke addicts and alcoholics and Territorial Senators and jewelry store salespeople and real estate developers, and the funny thing is…they were all human beings. Every last one of them. Some more screwed up than others, some in more pain than others but humans nonetheless.

I watched 9/11 from a beach-front condo and saw the iguanas crawl across the deck as the second plane slammed into the building and our collective American gut.

Four years later, I liked John Edwards the best. I still think he could have won in 2004 against George W. Instead we got Kerry.

Kerry was could not beat George W.

But Kerry could see talent. For that he will always be remembered. For that he earns my deep admiration.

I had never ever been the least bit interested in political speeches or Democratic or Republican conventions. I had seen some great speakers among Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had never seen a great political speaker in my lifetime. I know a bit about speaking since I used to teach it to Spanish speaking immigrants in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Carson City, NV. I fancied myself a promising speaker.

So when I heard that a young up and coming Democratic leader would be giving the speech and that he was reported to be an excellent speaker I decided to watch. I didn’t expect much.

Yet here he was, giving the speech I had waited five long years for. One of unity and common purpose not division. I told my girlfriend at the time that if Barack Hussein Obama ever ran for President, I would help him.

He brought tears to my eyes. I knew I was not alone in this.

After the speech I forgot Obama. I tried some ideas in the Virgin Islands which failed miserably and I set out for a new adventure. Something far from the homogenized corporate Disneyland that my home country had become; with a Best Buy, Walmart, and Home Depot on every corner. An America with all the goods China will lend us. An America with waning joy and a dying heart.

I found my own heart again when I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. A land where art is not dead and music and passion survive. Where society is not built upon profits and process and sameness. Here too I have found human beings, wonderful marvelous passionate joyous human beings.

It was in Buenos Aires as I was healing from the wounds of too many years in a world driven by the empty pursuit of profit and money that I saw Obama’s announcement of his candidacy for Democratic nominee. I knew then that I would have to return home to fulfill my commitment to help.

I used my reputation in the micro world of trading to perhaps sway a few. I spent four months filming the campaign thinking I might be able to help by producing a short film on Obama, but in the end, Obama has been way ahead of me. I have certainly tried to help him but I’m not so sure I’ve been able to do very much. Sure I’ve converted everyone I know that would listen, or I should say he’s converted them. I got them to pay attention and Obama did the rest. But that doesn’t matter. There were thousands like me, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and soon there will be millions.

Obama’s power comes not from within himself but from within each of us collectively. He believes in us, the American People. We the People of these United States.

That is the source of Obama’s power, not his self confidence but his us confidence.

Those of us who have been helping him may have entered into this because we wanted to help him help heal America but I suspect that most have found – as I have – that by helping him we have healed ourselves. That gnawing feeling that we have work to do which remains undone is fading. In its place there is starting to grow the seeds of hope that my generation and all of us alive today will indeed do something to leave our mark. The hope that the world’s problems are not intractable.

I have always viewed America as the children of the world. America has been great because all the world’s countries have sent some of the brightest and most ambitious to prosper with the hope that some day…some not so distant day we might return to help our cousins overcome the divisions, belligerence, and inequality that has harmed the world for so long.

Yes, for the First Time in My Life, I am Really Proud to be an American

And proud to be a Human Being.

Obama 08!

By Curtis Faith

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