Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This Day, This Election, This Defining Moment
President-elect Obama spoke of "this day, this election and this defining moment." I am still reflecting on everything that has happened and to help me process this event, I am writing about it while still in the moment, the day after the election. I also want to capture the amazing movement I feel on this day. I was a little blind-sided by the emotional impact that yesterday's election would have on me. This morning it was difficult to talk about the historical, political and social impact that this election had on me. Let me make this certain; this election was never about race for Obama. He never ran to be the black candidate or to represent black America, nor did he ever fall back on his blackness as an issue of the election. But this does not negate the fact that it is a historical milestone for a black man to be elected. For the millions of black Americans who study the history of their country, this means they will be able to look at a list of portraits of presidents and see a face that resembles themselves. And parents can tell them that anything is possible and there is evidence that this is so. And the historical importance is magnified by people like Amanda Jones, 109, who was born to a father who was a freed slave. Just like the woman in Obama's speech, Ms. Jones could not vote because she is both black and a woman. Yesterday, however, she lived to not only vote, but to do so for a black man and she saw him win the Presidency.
The history is beautifully symmetrical: Lincoln, a first-time Congressman from Illinois was elected to re-unite the republic and eventually free the black Americans who were enslaved since this country's birth. And here is Obama, a first-term Senator from Illinois reaping the benefits of Lincoln's presidency, but not as an ancestor of a freed black man, but as a product of a willing and hopeful African immigrant.
As I said earlier, however, this campaign has never been about race and I would go so far as to say that Obama has been a post-racial candidate. But what has been more powerful to me is that Obama has been a post-boomer candidate (See the Atlantic story from Dec 2007). For nearly four decades now, America has been dominated by baby boomers. First they were the electorate and protestors of the sixties and seventies and then they were the leaders of the Clinton and Bush years. This is a legacy of partisanship and division: vets and hippies, liberals and conservatives, the religious and the secular, black and white, urban and rural. Obama won without aligning himself along this baby-boomer paradigm. His message was one that could be embraced by ALL Americans. While much politics has been calculating to divide and conquer; to galvanize enough to win while alienating the others, Obama sought to move beyond that type of politics. It is this message of hope, unity, promise, and the American dream that moves me.
This message must be put into action. I was pleased to hear Obama say in his victory speech that this is only the beginning. This is not the change, but the first step toward the change. Obama has become a brand. He is cool, new, interesting and his message is a positive one that people want to be associated with. But if that is all then there is no substance and no real change. He continued to call people to action last night and tell them that their help in his campaign was only the beginning.
Finally, the significance of Chicago was not lost on me. Here is a city that was the most segregated city in America. A city where 42 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King was attacked with bricks for his message of peace and desegragation. A city where 40 years ago protestors swarmed on the Democratic National Convention and chanted, "The whole world is watching!" as police clashed violently with them. And yet, last night, in that moment, in this election, a black man took a stage in Chicago as the President-elect of the United States. And though this time the whole world was watching, nobody had to shout that. Instead it was a moment of unity, peace and celebration.
Posted by Sal at 7:57 PM