Wednesday, November 05, 2008

With Cultural Dexterity Obama Makes History

The November 4, 2008 elections were on my mind from the moment the sound of a Barack Obama supporter shouting with excitement drifted through my open bedroom window as the polls opened at 6:30am.

I roused myself and began getting ready as I wanted to cast my vote before work.

My apartment building sits on the west side of Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 111th and 112th street in Manhattan. The northwest corner of Central Park sits one block south across from the 110th street MTA subway stop where I catch the downtown B or C train each morning.

The Election District 72 polling site where I vote sits directly across the street of my apartment in a medium-sized recreation room located on the ground floor of the Charles Hill Tower on 2050 8th Avenue. Normally, voting is a breeze in the early morning but as I stepped outside at 7:20am the first thing I saw was a quiet group of people waiting quietly in a line that snaked around the corner onto west 112th street.

That was my first inkling that something monumental was about to happen in America.

It was a struggle to keep my mind on work and I arrived early in order to leave at 5 to race home and scan the television channels for the latest election results. In doing so I witnessed the dawn of a new era for tolerance, intellectual evolution and social cohesiveness in this nation.

The global media was glued to the massive cultural shift that ended at 11pmEST when the results from the crucial California race came in and showed that Senator Obama had surpassed the requisite 270 electorial votes needed to win the 2008 presidential election; and for the first time ever, a black man became the 44th president of the United States.

There are so many things I feel thankful for one is being alive to witness the momentous occassion in US politics and indeed, history.

We came together as a country and voted in record numbers and I'm proud of that. I listened to both candidates give speeches that were gracious, eloquent and thoughtful. It was an inspiring testament to both men's character that they called for unity in their remarks to their supporters.

I wanted to hear a sampling of what people were thinking about this momentous election, so I watched C-Span's coverage of Obama's speech and I'm of the mind that while the election of the nation's first black president is an historic occasion in every sense; I was reminded that we've got a lot of work to do.

C-Span fielded a variety of uncensored calls from people all over this country expressing their impression of the election results. I was struck by the nearly identical tone of almost 95% of the calls in support of John McCain. Nearly everyone of them expressed disappointment with the victory of Barack Obama as they talked about a sense of being fearful of the rapid changes unfolding before them.

Numerous callers claimed the election wasn't valid because Obama wasn't from this country and that he is a Muslim terrorist. Apparently some of these callers are seriously misinformed or just don't realize that Hawaii is in fact the 50th state, Obama was born there, so he's an American.

It seemed to elude them that you cannot be elected to the United States Senate without being a US citizen.

One woman with a thick foreign accent talked at length in fear-driven abstract generalities, confusing non-specifics and ignorant half-truths about why Obama was a poor choice for president; she claimed that he got into Columbia University because a Saudi prince wrote him a letter of support - which she claimed validated her concerns that he was a friend to terrorists. She sounded like a frightened child who's father has dropped her hand in crowded room.

Poor silly creature, I'm honestly not sure what's more pathetic; her not realizing how uninformed and brainwashed she sounded - or that she has no clue that the Bush family are all far closer to Saudi princes and kings than Obama ever was or will be.

Think about THAT one. If there was anyone who got into an Ivy League school based on the merits of a letter of Saudi royalty, it was our current president.

Of course don't mistake my observations of some of the media coverage for not feeling excited and hopeful that a real leader has been restored to the White House for the first time in long while. But I'm a realistic optimist. There's a lot of work to be done right here inside the hearts and minds of Americans living in every corner of the land.

For people from every background, religion, ethnicity and race, it is a time of hope and anticipation to begin the Herculean job of restoring this nation. But let's not forget that for some in this country, skin still matters more than reality, science, truth or character - and therin lies our most critical battleground. Our most daunting challenge.

I take a measure of solace in my faith in the general of eloquence, grace and quiet strength now charged with leading us, ALL of us, into the fray left from over a decade of Republican control of Washington...Once more unto the breach.

Grant Park, Chicago - November 4, 2008

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