August 28, 2008: Bearing Witness

T.A. Barnhart

Barack Obama accepts Democratic Party's nomination for President at Invesco Field, Denver, August 28, 2008Barack Obama closed with these words on Thursday night: “…in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.” Confessing hope. We do have hope, those of us who find in Obama and his campaign a real, and realistic, possibility for change in this country and the world. But confessing hope is not enough. As those who have this hope, we must also take up another task, a tremendous responsibility that, for me, has its roots in my presence in Denver last Thursday night: bearing witness.

We confess hope as that which our heart desires and seeks. We bear witness of what we know, what we have seen and experienced, what we insist is true.

Truth is the most profound, and most untouchable, of all human ideas. Yet truth is nothing we can ever prove. There is no scientific test or logical formulation, not even an unassailable testimony of personal experience, that can render an assertion into undeniable truth. Although the basis for whatever authenticity anyone’s life may have, truth is beyond our ability to prove, and for a very good reason:

Truth is a matter of faith, and faith alone. Allow truth to be something definite and provable, and it becomes a mere fact — and faith, in turn, becomes an empty wish. One either accepts an idea or a situation to be true or one does not. Whatever the nature of truth beyond the scope of human life, in this mortal realm, truth is something we pursue but never grasp. We only believe in it. We have faith in it.

But that does not make truth something we cannot demonstrate or advocate or insist upon. We can make our case for truth, and if we have faith in our truth — whatever that truth may be — we ought to make that case. Whether the argument for truth is logical, or scientific, or spiritual, we should step forward and speak of that which we believe and why. But we won’t be proving anything; we’ll only be speaking that which we believe to be true.

Bearing witness. Stepping forward and speaking of that which we know — which we believe — to be true. We bear witness so that others may hear what we perceive to be truth and, perhaps, be persuaded. And in persuading others of our truth, we may open to them a door through which they, in turn, find both truth and hope.

On Thursday night in Denver, I stood with 80,000 others and bore witness to what I believe to be truth: Not that Barack Obama is a savior of some kind, or that the Democratic Party will fix all the world’s problems. What I bore witness to was my own belief that I am essential to making democracy work, that democracy can fix much that is wrong with the world, and that Barack Obama is my partner in this work, not my leader.

And now, home again, recovering from sleep-deprivation and stunned by what I experienced in Denver, I bear witness further: That we must all unite to end the ills that plague our nation and world. That we each matter as much as the next. That hope is a tangible thing (or, as defined by a poster seen at the Manifest Hope Gallery: “Sucks now, better later”). That hope alone is not enough, but nothing will ever be sufficient without hope. That we have a shitload of work to do.

I felt a tremendous sense of privilege on Thursday to be at this historic event. Some time after I left, I realized something awe-inspiring: I was one of only 80,000 people who were present, in person, at one of our nation’s transformational moments. As I thought of the experience and the amazing fact that I was able to be there — and all thanks to the Bus Project, BusFed, and Jefferson Smith for that — I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was one of so few people who will be able to say I stood there with Barack Obama as he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination and changed our nation’s history.

As yet, I can only give a vague and stupid-sounding appreciation of what it meant to be there. I have not found the words that communicate clearly the awe I continue to feel. In time, my contemplation of the experience will yield thoughts and ideas I can share with others in meaningful ways. As Jefferson advised as the Bus returned to Portland, doing more in the spirit of the event — working to elect Obama and to expand democracy in our community — will give my feelings both substance and context. I won’t ever tire of savoring the emotions I felt and continue to feel. I will probably continue to say “Wow” to myself for the rest of my life.

Now, as I seek to heed Jeff’s advice and work to make Obama’s words a reality — I truly do believe we can be a better country and that I am a co-equal partner with him and the others in this work — I need to bring to my friends and others what it was to be there. I need to translate the experience of a few hours on an August evening in 2008 into ideas and possibilities of where we might go from here. Those who watched the speech on television actually got a better view, and a better sound system, than I did. They understand and appreciate the words he spoke every bit as well as I. Their absence from the stadium does not diminish their experience of that event one bit.

But they were absent; I was not. This is not against them for their absence but instead a responsibility I bear because I was one of those who stood with Barack Obama to challenge our nation’s past, present and future. While tens of millions of people watched (and continue to watch online) that tremendous speech, only a relative handful of us stood together with Obama at that moment, in that place, to hear his words and affirm them with our presence. We came to Denver to be with him in that time and place, and now we have returned home to continue the journey and finish the work of this campaign.

I have a responsibility to take my own experience of that moment in history and use it to build a better world for my two children and all others on this planet. That’s my responsibility, as one who was fortunate enough to be at Invesco on Thursday:

To bear witness.

  • Bob (unverified)

    PT Barnum, meet Elmer Gantry.

  • Larry (unverified)

    TA is exactly what PT was talking about...

    ... and that other guy, you know, who said:

    "Better to remain silent and thought of as a fool, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

    Keeping on keeping on, TA. There are still some doubters in this world.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Thanks for the report, T.A.

    Memo to Blue Oregon Moderators: The peanut section has been trashing this site of late. I suggest that we go to a moderated mode of posting and screen out the slime balls who are polluting this forum. I have appreciated Blue Oregon, but I'm just about outta here with all the right wing trash mouths that are invading the space. We need a bouncer.

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    Even my 10 year old wanted to skip football practice to watch. (He LOVES football) He watched the replay later that evening and knew there was work to be done. First words out of his mouth after the speech were " When's the next Bus Trip ?"

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    funny you should ask, Dena. the Bus is heading to East County on Saturday, for Nick Kahl and Greg Matthews. the last time we were out there, my car had two boys around 13 years old; they won't even be able to vote in 2012, but they were with their union parents working for Greg.

    also, there are always service projects for those who don't walk. but if you want to help these two great candidates get elected, and your son wants to walk with you to demonstrate that even kids know what's going on and what needs to be done, give Henry a call at the Bus office: 503.233.3018. we always have fun, food, music and we will win these races. join us! i'll be glad to tell your son all about Invesco, Denver and anything else he wants to know.

    (after the 6th, there's a "Women in Leadership Day" trip to Sandy on the 13th for Suzanne Van Orman and even more trips to follow. and everyone is welcome to join Trick or Vote!)

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    Thanks for all the info T.A. ! Spencer went on his first Bus Trip last weekend for Brent Barton and had a great time. BP was kind enough to partner up with our chapter of Stand for Children and we knocked on almost 1800 doors. Took our 13 year old daughter and her friend to canvass for Obama out in West Linn a few weeks ago. BP definitely knows how to do it right and make for a good time.

    For anyone who is interested, a friend (and community volunteer) and I will be hosting a house party for Brent Barton on Friday, Sept. 12th at 8 PM. Nibbles, sweets and wine will be served. Brent Barton will of course be there, along with other special guests ! Contact me for details at [email protected]

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    Ride um cowboy Gov. Brian Schwetzer (D-Mont)easily gave the most populist speech at the DNC. It was another version of "Two America's" from the Edwards campaign and more. Through out the week we heard about America being tapped out on debt and an America with a zero percent national savings rate.

    Schwerzer and others spent time talking about leveling the playing for working and middle class folks, the folks who've been ripped off by the Bush/Cheney administration.

    Some very angry American's will vote for McCain just because it is a vote of superiority over women, races, gays, and folks less fortunate themselves. Their emotional vote has nothing to do with improving their own circumstances. McCain, Smith and Walden are experts at playing to that particular demographic of voters.

    This election isn't close to a slam dunk. We enjoyed 5 days of "getting together" in Denver, now we have to work harder than the message, "Eight is Enough."

    This more than "Yes we can." This election is taking our energy into a room full of phone bankers for Obama and Merkley and getting to work.

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    Dena, glad you made it out there. i was on the planning trip, but sort of had to miss it since i went to Denver. dang. i haven't heard much about the trip yet, but i was bummed to miss going out for Brent. i'll get another chance at the end of the month. hope to see you there!

    btw, did he try to brain anyone with an errant frisbee this time?

  • Jude (unverified)

    With Oboma's awesome speechification last week, and with Mother Nature doing her thing against the Repugs, and Mc$ame having a brainfart in picking the AlaskanPie, the polls should show ObomaBiden 15% up.

    CNN Poll: Obama 49, McCain 48...

    ZOGBY: McCain/Palin 47% Obama/Biden 45%...


    ObomaBiden only gets one clear win out of three polls? And that one by only 6 points?

    Man, it must suck to be a Oboma fan, especially with that old fart with 26 yrs in the Senate dragging down the main message.

    Sen Biden: Change We Can Believe In.

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    CBS has Obama with an 8-point lead, 48%-40%

    but don't forget: the polls show a nationwide aggregate. we vote state-by-state. you start looking at those (go to and you find Obama with big leads in the big states -- and leads or significant challenges in small states and red states (most polls show Oregon leaning to Obama, but we know he'll carry it easily).

    polls are as reliable as your drunk date's affirmations of love last night as he tried to get into your pants. given that Obama's record is winning races he's supposed to lose -- the 2004 IL Dem Senate primary, the 2008 Dem presidential primary -- the fact that McCain can't get past him despite his free ride in the MSM has got to have to the old guy sweating. and now Palin's proving to be loaded with unvetted problems....

    you can speculate (from your butt, i'm guessing) Obama should have a huge lead, but you gots no proof. just snotiness. you gotta be proud.

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    Memo to Blue Oregon Moderators:...

    BlueOregon 2.0? C'mon, guys, you've been promising for a long time now.


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