Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thank God

Last night was an unforgettable night. I couldn't be more relieved at the results of the election, and I'll never forget the round of toasts we made as soon as Obama was announced the winner. 

My mother called as soon as the news hit, and asked me to relay her own toast to the group of friends and family assembled at my brother's house. She was ecstatic. Her toast centered around a story she's told me many times, about 1968 in North Carolina. When she was twenty-one years old, she began a teaching job in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where my father was stationed with the military. The day before school started, she was running late to a teacher's meeting in the school library, so when she arrived, she took the first seat she could find and settled in. She thought she had managed to sneak in, so she was surprised to see the entire collection of teachers and administrators turn to stare at her. It wasn't until her neighbor pointed out that she needed to move seats that she realized she had sat down on the wrong side of the room--she was sitting with the black folk.

Later that day, the Superintendent of schools stopped by to see her, and warned her that she wasn't in Seattle anymore. "The Civil Rights Act hasn't passed in North Carolina," he said. 

I love my mother. "Tonight, it's finally passed!" she said. 

It is deeply moving to think that just fifty years ago, our president-elect and his family wouldn't have found it easy to register to vote, let alone move into the White House. But beyond this, Obama is more than just a symbol of racial healing. We've gone so far astray in this country, and last night, we steered ourselves back on course. Obama's message of personal responsibility is unique-- it's not the Republican version of the individual's unfettered right to seek great wealth, nor is it a standard Democratic ideal of common good mattering more than individual liberty. He is asking each of us to work harder, to contribute more, and to reconsider what it means to be an American with both rights and responsibilities. Watching the way young people and old have been galvanized in this election has been enormously inspiring. After so much complacency and cynicism and the sense that the damage of the last eight years has been beyond our control, I believe many of us are waking up today ready to assume the great responsibilities of the coming years. It's not just the job of the president to fix things. 

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times writes about the end of the Civil War and where this nation is headed under Obama's presidency.

"But a new politics of the common good can't be only about government and markets. 'It must also be about a new patriotism-- about what it means to be a citizen,' said Sandel. 'This is the deepest chord Obama's campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service-- in the military, in the Peace Corps, or in the community. Obama's campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.'"

The one sad result from last night's election is the news that Proposition 8 has passed in California, banning gay people from having the same right to marry that I am currently enjoying. This is a devastating loss for many of my friends, and for all of us who believe that everyone should have the right to marry whoever they love. The fact that California voted in our first black president while stripping gay people of their right to marry only clarified that the civil rights movement of our time is the movement to recognize our gay friends and family as equal citizens. 

1 comment:

fingeth said...

I couldn't agree more. I love the America I woke up to on Nov. 5th more than I ever believed I could.