Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

Like most (if not all) of you, I am walking around today in a euphoric daze. Every time I hear the words "President-elect Obama" on the news I can't help breaking out into a big shit-eating grin. It's really true. It happened. America and Americans have turned a page in our ugly history of race relations. Not to mention we elected the right person for the job, someone with intelligence, insight, a deliberate (and-yes, I'll dare to say it-nuanced) approach to problem-solving, intellectual curiosity and enough sense of self to not be threatened by differences, whether among people or ideas.

Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Neil Conan interviewed Bernice Johnson Reagon, best known as a founding member of the a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock; she's also a cultural historian and an amazing woman of many other talents. (I like to paraphrase something she said once about coalition-building: "If you are comfortable with the positions and ideas of everyone in your coalition, your coalition isn't big enough.")

Today she talked about her pride and joy in bearing witness to this moment in history. The phrase struck me; it's the title of an anthology of selections taken from different Afro-American biographies by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of our nation's foremost scholars of Afro-American and African history. To me, bearing witness suggests not only seeing or experiencing something first-hand, but proclaiming it publicly. It is both passive and active. 

As a nation, we have just borne witness to something many believed would never happen in their lifetime. It is, by any measure, astonishing. But we didn't just see this happen; we helped make it happen. This could arguably be called the first DIY presidential election in American history.

Okay, okay, so I'm guzzling the Kool-Aid a bit; sorry about that. Despite my high-flown rhetoric, I still have reservations about Obama. He's not as progressive as I'd like, particularly on energy issues and gay marriage. I have no real hope he'll be able to implement his health care program, not because he isn't sincere about prioritizing it, but because I have no idea how he'll finance it. All that notwithstanding, his election is amazing. The way he mobilized and inspired and fired up voters of all ages and backgrounds and the way he navigated through the shark-infested waters of a two-year campaign fills me with wonder.

And I got to see it happen, and even participate in it (I phone banked last weekend) in my own small way. I have no illusions about the uphill climb we as a nation face right now. Obama is not the Messiah. His election doesn't put an end to our problems, but I'd like to think his election is the first step towards resolving them.

Si se puede.

No comments: