Friday, October 9, 2009

I can now truthfully say that one of my former neighbors is now a Nobel Laureate.

When I was in graduate school at the University of Chicago in the mid-90s, a young law professor and community organizer named Barack Obama lived three blocks north of my crummy student housing building. He and his wife occupied a tiny two-bedroom condo, saddled with massive law-school debts that his community-service oriented job couldn't pay. While other Harvard Law grads raked in piles of money doing corporate law, Barack and Michelle Obama did low-paying work on such legal issues as civil rights and health care for the indigent. They lived small so their work could live large.

I saw Mr. Obama speak at a small community rally a block away from campus when he was running for state senator representing the working-class college neighborhood where I lived, Hyde Park. I was impressed with him. So impressed I voted for him that first time he ran for office (a tiny, inconsequential office in state government) in 1996. And followed his career ever since.

To all of those who don't think that Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, because he's too early in his presidential term, or he hasn't achieved world peace yet (or whatever other petty nay-saying reason you come up with) I say this.

The Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded to recognize efforts for peace, human rights and democracy only after they have proven successful. That was never Alfred Nobel's aim. More often, the prize is awarded to encourage those who receive it to see their efforts towards peace through, sometimes at critical moments. That's the whole reason there's a large sum of money attached----not to personally enrich the fortunes of the winner, but to help support and sustain the causes the winners champion. This is the part that a whole lot of people are missing right now----including a lot of top media people.Dr. Martin Luther King actually won his Peace Prize before his civil rights movement had actually garnered any real legislative action or had even quelled racial violence. (indeed, the worst of the 60s race riots occurred after Dr. King was assassinated.) Instead, Dr. King essentially won the Peace Prize for his "I Have A Dream" speech, which inspired the national call to action on civil rights. Inspired. Sound familiar? King's speech was a "promise" that inspired millions----not at all unlike what Obama has done, in both the United States and around the world. Plus, Dr. King's movement was local, and didn't aim to bring peace between nations---only between citizens of the same country. King's winning of the prize is now widely considered the tipping point in the civil rights movement, along with the "I Have A Dream" speech itself, which the prize recognized. And I don't think anybody today would argue that Dr. King didn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize just because his movement hadn't "succeeded" yet when he won it.

Chew on that, Republicans. The more you guys deride this, the more you look like you're on the wrong side of history.


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