My 14-year-old son, Joey, and his African-American friend Terrell took a leave from their San Francisco high schools this week to travel to Miami with my wife, Camille, and get out the vote. Politics is not something Joey and Terrell generally give a lot of thought to. Girls, music, friends, hip-hop style -- those all rank a lot higher on the list. But they're in the streets of northeast Miami now, going door to door. And in his phone call home last evening, his usual teenage-cool flatliner voice was replaced by something else, the kind of rushed excitement a kid has when he sees and feels something new. "It's amazing here, Dad." He and Terrell are part of an electoral uprising that I've never seen in my lifetime -- and I'm old enough to remember all the way back to Nixon-Kennedy.
John Kerry has been borne aloft on the wings of thousands and thousands of young angels in America. If he wins on Tuesday, it will be due in no small part to the armies of new volunteers -- young and old -- who rallied around his campaign because they felt it really was a battle for the country's soul.
I remember volunteering as a teenager for Bobby Kennedy's 1968 campaign when it came to California. I remember the Vietnam-terrorized kids like me who rushed toward his flame, and the blacks and Latins who swarmed his open car as it drove through their neighborhoods. I remember the waves of desperate hope and yearning that crashed against Bobby's slight body as he stood in that car, the hands grabbing him and clawing at his clothes, the needy and ecstatic faces beseeching him, Take us out of this national nightmare -- only you can do it.
The Bobby Kennedy crusade was terminated before it could get close to the White House. The Kerry campaign has come much further. And yes, it's become obligatory to note, John Kerry does not have the Kennedy charisma. But there is something deep and resolute about this man, who was returning to America from Vietnam on a Navy ship when he heard Bobby Kennedy had been shot, that commands a loyalty and a faith that he will make America true again to its ideals. And that's enough to have launched this stunning popular revolution, which I'm convinced the pollsters and pundits still do not fully grasp.
I've had many heart-in-my-throat experiences during this campaign, moments that reassured me that our beloved country is coming back to its best and truest self, led by the better angels of its nature. One came this weekend, while flipping channels to escape the joyless, dog-faced pundits who manage to suck out whatever is exuberant from the high drama of our politics. I landed on the Sundance Channel to catch the closing song of a Bruce Springsteen Vote for Change concert. Springsteen was joined onstage by all his tour mates REM, the Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, James Taylor -- for a full-throated version of ,no, not "No Surrender," but another song that could also be the anthem of the campaign to unseat President Bush: Patti Smith's "People Have the Power." There was something in the song that invoked the broken dreams of the '60s and made them new again. And it made me feel, once again, that on Tuesday, people really will have the power.
"I was dreaming in my dreaming/ of an aspect bright and fair/ and my sleeping it was broken/ but my dream it lingered near/ in the form of shining valleys/ where the pure air recognized and my senses newly opened/ I awakened to the cry/ that the people/ have the power to redeem/ the work of fools/ upon the meek/ the graces shower/ it's decreed/ the people rule
The people have the power/ The people have the power"