Monday, November 10, 2008

A Momentous Day in my Civic Adult Life

I still can't believe it happened. The United States elected a black president in a quick and undisputed election. I feel truly proud to be an American and to have been part of its democratic process. I sat in a friend's packed living room in Seattle listening to Obama's acceptance speech, occassionally taking my eyes off the TV screen to see my friends' eyes fill with tears. People were patriotically drinking red, white, and blue themed beer- Red Stripe, Blue Lebat, White Belgian ale, etc. We heard reports of celebration taking to the sreets of Capitol Hill, and so Lindsey and I headed up to see what it was all about. Businesses had promotions, bars had drink specials, and folks had been hanging out most of election day in nervous anticipation of the results. After the acceptance speech was over, crowds exited the bars en mass. I realized it was the first time in my life I had seen citizens take over the streets in joy instead of in protest. There was cheering, kissing, hugging, gleeful smiling, horns honking, countless high-fiving, and even some interpretive dancing. And while I'm very relieved and filled with hope for the future, I'm not so naive as to believe that electing Obama is a cure-all for anything. He is coming into office at a low point in U.S. history- an economic crisis, enormous debt, messy wars, and serious environmental concerns. Plus, he's a politician like any politician, and has his own set of campaign debts and allegiances. It will also depend a lot on who he appoints in his cabinet, if he sticks to people with "experience" who will conduct business as usual, or if he ventures out with some new people. I guess only time will tell. I could try to say more, but I'll leave that to some women who probably say it better. Here's a link to Amy Goodman's (of Democracy Now!) blog about the election. And here's an open letter that Alice Walker wrote to Obama. Walker was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature, in the 1980's for The Color Purple. "Dear Brother President-elect, “You have no idea, really, how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you delivering the torch so many others carried, only to be brought down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, this is a different America. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, that was previously only sung about. “I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. Not to mention your brave and precious grandmother, who, of course, as we know, went on. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is only what so many people in the world want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not clear to them yet that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of everyone. “I would further advise you not to take on other people’s enemies. Most damage that others do us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must, all of us, learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are the commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely.” That is, he will soon be the commander in chief. “However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner.’ There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people’s spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led. “A good model of how to ‘work with the enemy’ internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world. “We are the ones—we are the ones we have been waiting for.”