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September 30, 2009

For the sake of argument

Recently, in one of my writing classes, I was discussing the concepts of pathos, logos and ethos — the scaffolding of a persuasive argument. We were talking about the art of persuasion, and specifically how to turn a polite discussion into a heated debate … and win.

We were also talking about the concept of using images as words and commercials as arguments.

I came up with some decent definitions of logos and ethos — the boring brothers of influence — but my pathos examples were kind of my “Top Chef” moment of the class. My best example of pathos was a Coca-Cola commercial that aired last winter — the one with that awfully kind polar bear driving the train to Santa’s house. (My other example involved Sally Struthers broadcasting the plight of impoverished African children, but the students had no idea who I was talking about.)

After discussing the polar bear commercial in the context of pathos, I felt like an actual teacher — like I had just inspired a room full of students to stand on their desks and shout, “Oh Captain! My Captain!” It felt good to feel smart.

Then one of my intelligent students took all my glory away with one question: “So, like the Obama campaign, with hope as a symbol and their design, is that kind of like pathos?” The question inspired someone else to say, “Well yeah, but also logos and ethos.” At that moment, I lost my ethos. Of course they were right, and I, of course, was going to get to that very point eventually. But instead, they beat me to it.

Unfortunately, like any discourse on politics, the conversation quickly turned away from the objective — lines were being drawn, guns were being loaded. I changed gears and asked them to open their books, and turn to page …

Driving home from school that day, I saw a bumper sticker I hate — the one with Obama’s now-iconic symbol, along with the words: “This won the election.” What I hate most about that sticker is it’s true, and there’s nothing wrong with that fact. We, the hopeful masses who voted for him, stood behind that symbol, giving it definition and importance. We the people made the meaning.

Then, later that evening, it occurred to me, louder than ever before, that “Yes We Can!”

We won the election for Obama, which in a way was a promise to him that we would continue to do our jobs — uniting through community service, holding rallies, blanketing America with flyers of his face, our symbol of hope. But we were his hope just as much as he was ours.

And where are we now with our campaign promises? Have we become so used to not having a voice that we think our only option is to sit back and say, “OK, we got you here, now do your job.” The foundation of his campaign relied, in part, on the faith that small groups of dedicated people and grassroots organizations can change the country.

Now what? What do all of us regular Joes who didn’t post flyers or make cold-calls during the campaign do? What about those of us who took part by simply casting a vote? Isn’t it our responsibility to take on part of the burden, since we were the ones who got him elected in the first place?

I’ve always thought of myself as an activist, although one who fully understood the possibility of doing more and experienced the guilt of not doing enough. While at college in Vermont, I often saw flyers inviting me, and anyone else I suppose, to dig wells in Ecuador during spring break. I always wanted to, but never thought of myself as one who actually did that type of thing. Since then, I’ve gone to a few marches and political rallies, but it’s been a while. So here it is — an opportunity to live up to the campaign promise to do something.

Here’s the plan: On Oct. 10-11, gay rights groups from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., for the National Equality March to strategize about a wide range of LGBT fairness issues (not just gay marriage). The Fairness Campaign will be among those groups, along with other Louisville activists. You should be there, too — now is your time.

For more information on the march, visit www.fairness.org or www.equalityacrossamerica.org.

Tagged: Yep, I’m Gay |