Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
The final crescendo in a day that, for hundreds of thousands of volunteers began with hanging cards on doors and making yet another round of calls, and proceeded through the nail-biting questions of bad weather in Virginia, and fears of bad polling machine and the usual array of Republican dirty tricks, ended in a park in Chicago, where, backed by the city skyline and a forest of stately American flags, Barack Obama came to the podium, and began a new era in politics, and a new era in American society.
There was no music at the event which spanned a mass of humanity that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. There were no lead-up speeches to pump the crowd up. There were nothing but the big screen TVs pumping the crowd up as the electoral numbers climbed.
At 10:00pm central time, when the polls in the Western States closed, and the magic number of electoral votes soared from 207 to well over the 270 needed, then climbed again to 303, the crowd was overjoyed.
Cut away to a moment in Arizona, where John McCain addressed a more humble crowd of largely white, largely older voters, and gave one of the best speeches in his career, because it was easily his most difficult. He silenced the repeated boos and catcalls of the crowd, and, in one of the rarest moments you will ever see from the senator, took personal responsibility for the failure of his team to bring victory to the Republicans this election. It was an exceptional moment largely lost on the crowd still stoked up by the gasoline of weeks of cries of terrorist, socialist, and worse. Hopefully it set a tone that will allow those people to come down from that high.
Then, after a brief convocation by a purple-robed preacher emerged for a short prayer, the national anthem was voiced, and Obama took center stage.
People in the crowd stood there in joyous tears, in shock. What was interesting was that there were invited guests, nearly 70,000 of them, but no VIP area. Jessie Jackson stood huddled in the crowd in tears. Oprah was out there, a citizen like you and me, in tears.
In Harlem, and in Times Square, and at Rockefeller Center, in parties across America and in the very cynical punditry people almost stood in disbelief that Change had come, that all of the forces we know darken our politics and turn us cyncial about our society had been beaten back by young people and old people buying T-Shirts and buttons and working on the Internet and pounding pavements.
For African-Americans in a moment the world was re-shaped. All of the talk of what could not be achieved, and the glass-ceilings of places that could not be reached was shattered by the realization that America is still what it advertises being: A land of opportunity. An African-American man who walked the walk, got the education, and used it well, who had a disciplined vision for himself and the nation, was able to become the President-Elect of the United States of America.
That, though, as important as it was, was not the focal point of the evening. Obama made sure that was so. He pointed out that he did not get the support of a lot of Americans, and that he was going to make sure that he earned it, and that they were on notice that “I am your President too.”
He put the world on notice that our friends would be treated well, but our enemies would find no friend in him.
His very black face in a very White House though, sends a very loud message to all of those around the world who have used the shackles of our hundred-twenty-plus years of post-slavery to wipe away the argument that we don’t walk-the-walk, and that America is not a voice deserving of the world’s struggling masses’ respect.
If anything, Barack Obama’s physical presence defines America as that unique place on earth where peaceful change can happen. If he continues to walk the walk of healing the country from the center, as his speech suggested last night, he will also show governments around the world that, as he noted so eloquently, it America is not just the might of its weapons, or the power of its economic system (when healthy), but the strength of its ideas and ideals.
I woke up this morning truly proud of my country, and really, for the first time, hopeful that the long nightmare that began after the assasination of John F. Kennedy back in the 1960s, and Viet Nam are now behind us, and that the future ahead of us will be prosperous, and inclusive of all Americans, not just those who think that they have some lineage that dates back to the Mayflower.
It was that stunned silence, and the awe that it inspired in even the political pundits of the night who sat there in as close to stunned silence, that spoke volumes about the moment that words simply fail.