Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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On Obama and the Promise of the New Millennium
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   11/05/2009)

Consider how the striking of clocks at midnight, Dec. 31, 1999, rendered the name New Millennium Writings obsolete.

At least, certain critics and even some friends of my literary journal said so ten years ago. I never saw it that way. For the rest of our lives we'll live in the new millennium unless the world's intelligentsia, aided by endlessly flashing ones and zeroes, comes up with some Forever Formula to drastically extend our lives, surely a mixed blessing. Either way, this thousand-year cycle we entered a decade ago has barely begun.

True, it hasn't felt much like a new millennium. Perhaps childishly, some of us looked to the new era as a time when humans would emerge from our planetary nursery and set aside childish things such as war, economic hooliganism and environmental abuse. Our species would graduate to embrace the shining chalice of our Whole Earth and drink deep her royal blue promise.

For us, the Supreme Court majority's choice for the new millennium's first president, in 2000, was a buzz-kill followed by years of nightmare hangover. It was a crushing turn of calendars, compounded by a new and virulent brand of intolerance for new world dreamers and other political dissenters.

I paid a price for pointing to chinks in the armor of our so-called leader and those who surrounded him. In 2007, I ended my popular, 20-year newspaper column at the Knoxville News-Sentinel rather than see the column cut back to every other week, a move designed to dampen my on-going criticism of Cheney-Bush, whom the paper twice endorsed.

Others faced harsher consequences than I.

And so it was with great celebration that many of us embraced Barack Hussein Obama. If he could begin turning the tide on global warming, usher in sane healthcare reform, build down nukes, end mountaintop removal, America's wars, domestic spying, torture and shadowy government entities, he just might deliver us into a New Millennium worthy of the name.

That's turning out to be a big if. As this is written, the jury's out, Obama's Peace Prize notwithstanding.

Still, I make no apologies for supporting our nearly-new president, not only in my commentary but also in the pages of New Millennium Writings. As prize-winning poet Naomi Lowinsky writes, “There is a place in poetry where the spiritual and the political meet… I feared a slide into fascism.”

Most of the writing in the annual anthology is apolitical. Still, some political writing pertains, and I've been criticized for mixing the twain. After hearing of our Obama Millennial Award, which we bestowed on Lowinsky in the spring, writer Peter Lopatin withdraw a poem we'd accepted for publication, until I offered to run a note acknowledging his protest of our Obama award.

I made the offer for two reasons: First, I know what it's like to take a stand, and I can appreciate Lopatin's grit even while disagreeing. Second, I wanted his fine work in our anthology. In an email to the poet, I defended our Obama awards so:

“Obama's a published poet, and quite a worthy one,” I wrote. As evidence, check out Obama's poem, “Pop,” widely available on the Net. And I continued, “Much as I despised Bush, I wrote a column praising him as a fellow distance-runner and a worthy one, so there is a certain consistency here.”

Furthermore, “Obama achieved great distinctiveness—if not distinctive greatness—by becoming the first person of color to serve as president. This is no mean achievement and is deserving of commendation from those who celebrate diversity. It was a big deal that he got elected.

“I have no pictures of Obama on my walls. Still, I thought his election was seminal, worth noting in the same way NMW recognized the dawning of a new millennium with a special Y2K Award in 2000. That's why we did it. For that I don't apologize.”

If NMW and I are around when humans return to the moon or when the first woman's elected president, you can bet we'll acknowledge such seminal events, politics be damned. Otherwise, we will have diminished our claim to the name, New Millennium Writings… at least as we see it.

Meanwhile, I'll continue my advocacy journalism.

Two issues much on my mind these days are the proposed renewal of nuclear weapons production in this country and the practice of mountaintop removal to get at the coal—two of the worst Bush legacies that Obama needs to stop. Here are links that call for citizen action:

To oppose the building of new nukes, go here:

To oppose mountaintop removal, go here:

I urge you to take action or at least track down related links and become conversant in these crucial issues.

I hope to return to both as we all strive to build a New Millennium worthy of the name.