“The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King
“We are, and always will be, the United States of America.
“It’s the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.” President-elect Barack Obama, victory speech.
I couldn’t post yesterday. I was too overwhelmed. I spent much of yesterday reading around the internets, trying to put my finger on just how this felt to me. Of course, there was elation. Of course there was civic pride that we have finally taken this enormous leap as a nation and while we are by no means “over” racism, we have finally chosen someone based on the content of his character and have not let the color of his skin disqualify him. I was filled with pride for my hometown, Chicago. Look what forty years has wrought — Grant Park filled with all those elated, teary faces looking up in hope right there on the grounds where the old mayor sicced the cops on the hippies. It felt like something had been made right.
But those were not my battles. Civil rights was not my battle. Nor were the cultural battles of the sixties. My battle was a different one, and it feels today like the battle that began during the first election I ever cared about and argued with my parents over, the 1980 election that brought us Reagan, it feels like that battle is finally over.
I was in Paris in 1984 when Reagan was re-elected and I remember one night in a hotel room with a group of shiny privileged suburban American kids playing a word association game. They were the young Republicans who bought with glee into the idea that greed was good, that individualism was freedom, that we owe nothing to our fellow citizens but the opportunity to compete with us on a rigged playing field. They believed wealth would trickle down (while I, who had been raised broke among rich people, knew how unlikely that scenario was). They loved that after all the Free to Be You and Me sharing and caring hippie stuff we’d been raised with that Ronald Reagan came along and told them they were just fine the way there were, that shopping was good, that America was an empire and that we were the champions. And that as champions, they owed nothing to anyone. It was all theirs.
I hated it. I hated it then and I have hated it for the past 28 years. While I have friends and relatives who dearly wanted to see Hillary in the White House as a vindication of their dreams as women, I have wanted, since the beginning, to see Barack Obama, a man who has talked consistently of hope, of community action, of our highest historical ideals as a nation — I have wanted to see this man who talks the language we’ve seen debased and mocked these many years, and whose actions back up that idealistic language — that’s who I wanted to see elected to the presidency of the United States.
Gary Kamiya over at Salon has an piece entitled Taking our Country Back where he parses the many many ways that Obama’s election signals the end of this particularly shameful episode in our history. I urge you to go take a look. As for myself, I am looking forward to a government that does not debase language as a smokescreen for robbery. I am looking forward to being governed by someone who has read widely and deeply in our national literature, and who is, like some of us, a gigantic nerd about the ideals upon which our great American experiment was founded, and has been carried out. Most of all, I am looking forward to being governed by someone who speaks to the American people like grown ups, who speaks to us as people who are capable of carrying complex ideas, and who calls us to be better than we are. Who calls to us to reach out to one another. Whose campaign made me go out there and knock on doors and talk to people in my neighborhood, no matter how uncomfortable that made me. I am looking forward to being lead, and governed by someone who believes that government can and must be a force for civic good, and it is a rising tide that raises all our boats, together.