Concettina Died and Other Stories of the East Side

An Historic Election, posted November 5, 2008 at 08:43 PM


At 11pm last night, MSNBC announced the projected winner of the election. And Mom and Dad and I all leapt out of our chairs and hollered and cheered and applauded. Champagne quickly followed. That's how the three of us spent this particular moment of US history.

It's been a long time coming. My first mention on this blog of the 2008 presidential election was on November 9, 2006, when I nominated my mom. (I'd still choose you over Obama, Mom!). And what a long two years it's been. And the last two months have been otherworldly. Everyone I know has been simply obsessed with this election--our hatred for GWB so intense and our disdain for McCain so insane that we all never thought it would end. But here we are, having landed exactly where we intended to: with a new president-elect named Barack Obama.

On Halloween I took off for Wilmington, North Carolina--determined to do everything I could to help Obama get elected. I spent four full days knocking on doors trying to turn out voters in a relatively purple part of a relatively red state. I spent time talking to voters in affluent suburbs and in neighborhoods crumpling in abject poverty. I talked to whites, blacks, and latinos. I canvassed with young women and old men. And I can tell you that it was a life-changing experience. To hear the same excitement--and hope--in the voices of upper-middle-class whites as I was hearing in working-class blacks was thrilling. To be cold-shouldered by racially tinged disdain by some voters and to be insulted with vile words and threatened violence against Obama by other more outwardly racist folk was to learn first-hand the truth that Obama made part of the foundation of his campaign: that there is more that unites us than that which divides us. We can overcome our differences--and we must.

I hope President Obama asks much of us as individuals and as a citizenry in general. I know that the people of this country are willing to do more to fight our common threats than has been asked of us in recent years. Since the time of LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act there hasn't been a period in our culture where the common good has been put ahead of self-interests. Nixon ushered in an era of cynicism; Reagan ushered in an age of selfishness; Clinton made that selfishness more palatable until his crippled presidency became the embodiment of it. And then Bush began his reign of torture, asking nothing more of the American people than that we go shopping and turn a blind eye to the violence his mal-administration did to man, earth, and god alike. Please, America, never again.

I've spent most of today in tears--tears of relief that all our heavy lifting paid off at the polls. Tears of happiness that we have a president-elect that I actually like. Tears of awe that this country came together to turn a blind eye to race and elect the better candidate--and in doing so affirm the great distance race relations have come in recent decades. Tears of bitterness and disbelief that even with big steps forward we are still taking some steps backward, with California voters actually voting to remove rights that have already been granted to their citizens. Tears of exhaustion and post-traumatic election stress disorder.

We made history yesterday. We'll affirm it on January 20, 2009. And then we have to work hard to make it last and improve on it as we move into the future. I believe that if we continue making the kind of effort we made in the last few days, weeks, and months, we will be successful not just in electoral progress, but in real social progress as well. It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

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