Even for someone who doesn't necessarily believe that children are intrinsically interesting, it was completely adorable: Last Saturday, kids gathered at 826 Seattle in Greenwood to read their letters to President Barack Obama. The reading was part of a release party for Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country, a collection of letters written by children from seven cities across America (including Seattle); sales of the book go toward 826 National, an organization "dedicated to helping students, ages 6–18, with expository and creative writing."
There's no political agenda to these letters. They range from advice ("Meet with your helpers. Get a puppy. Talk to America. Make a speech. My name is Matthew Wong.") to important questions (a 5-year-old writes, "Do you work with Santa Claus? Can I meet you in your house? Can I say bye to you after I meet you? And then can I meet you again? And then again after that?") and demands ("let kids visit the Oval Office, but don't make it boring" and "I want a gasoline card").
Watching the kids read their own letters was enlightening and hilarious and sometimes sobering. Henri Fitzmaurice offered his opinion of the state of the union: "The economy, it is bad." Eleven-year-old Justine Cameron gave a heartbreaking assessment of the way things are at Washington Middle School:
The neighborhood has a lot of crime. Almost every week we have a lockdown. (A lockdown is when there is a crime happening around the school, and we have to lock our windows, close the shades, and lock our doors just to be safe.) It is really scary, and everyone gets really freaked out.
But the mood was mostly hopeful. Students read brief letters that the audience had dropped into the "Hope Hat" at the entrance to the reading ("I hope you inspire kids to embrace their inner nerd"), and there were red, white, and blue cupcakes and milk in champagne glasses for everyone in line as the authors signed the books for their adoring fans. It was hard not to imagine Rush Limbaugh violently puking his guts out in the face of all the nascent liberal joy.
The book is a real pleasure to read, and it's also an interesting peek into the way urban American families talk about politics when pollsters aren't around. "Fire the governor of California," one student pleads. Many want immigrant rights. Some students insist that lowering the price of gas is imperative, others rail against SUVs. Plenty of kids claim ownership of the administration in heartening ways: "You are just like a big me, because I am from Chicago and I am biracial and have curly hair." As we acclimate our hopes to the reality of an Obama presidency, it's inspiring to see evidence that real change has already happened.