Wednesday, November 05, 2008

4 November 2008

I was sitting on my living room couch last night, my television set tuned in but muted, as the poll results were coming in. I knew the next president of the United States would be decided soon, and I was ready for the answer... though I knew that the results would not be solidified until late into the night, even perhaps during the early hours of the morning.

I was writing my novel. It was about eleven o'clock at night, and I was deeply involved in some serious character development--when I happened to glance up at my silent television set. I was not ready for what I saw. It was too early in the evening for the results to be definitive; more than that, though, I was not mentally prepared to process the gravity of what had occurred. But there, as plain and authoritative as anything, was a smiling picture of Barack Obama against a blue backdrop, and underneath in regal white letters: "44th President Of The United States."

Of course, I had voted for Obama. In my mind, he was the only choice. Given the national and global state of affairs--a devastating economic crisis, a war nearly as unpopular as Vietnam being waged for all the wrong reasons, a climate undergoing utter destruction, low morale at home and little esteem abroad--I could not have considered voting otherwise. I don't love Obama and I never have, but when all was laid out on the table, I felt very strongly that Obama was the one who had the ability to bring about the hope that America so desperately needs.

I truly felt that Obama would win this election. Nothing could have prepared me, however, for the landslide victory with which he swept across the country. I was sure that it would be a close race, and that people all across the nation would be hovering around their televisions for hours, awaiting the poll results from every precinct, every state, which would be the deciding voices in this race. But when Florida was called in his favor, the race was over--and yet the results still kept coming, until he reached some 338 electoral votes, far more than the 270 he needed to seal his victory.

But what ended up hitting me even harder than his decisive win was the realization that history was made that night. For this man to be elected to the highest office in the land--this black man, this Barack Obama--something must have truly shifted in the minds of the American people. I think the reason his candidacy and ultimately his election did not strike me as inherently historical at first was that, in my mind, it was never about race. It was about the hope that he offered for a more peaceful future, for great social leaps, restored relationships with other nations (whether free or still entwined in systems of oppressive government). It was not about electing the first black president. The question of whether America was ready to elect a black president never registered to me; the only question in my mind was whether America was ready for change.

And America is ready for that change. That, to me, is the beauty of what happened on 4 November 2008. America judged this man not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character--and it was so seamless that I very nearly missed the historical significance. Yet the significance is obvious. Americans came together and accomplished something that many people never would have thought possible only a handful of decades ago. They came together in record numbers from every background, every socioeconomic status, every faith, the elderly and the young generations and everyone in between, and they said that they had had enough. Just when I was becoming disillusioned with who we are and what we as a nation stand for, America stood up and declared that it is strong, it is eager, and it is ready to overcome a divided history and look toward a united future.

I have much more to say, but I will have to say it another time. Let me just wrap up my initial thoughts on the election by saying that the struggle America is facing is far from over. One man cannot bring about the changes that we need to see, nor can an entire body of elected officials. Only a nation can change a nation--only we, the American people, can effect the change. I am so thankful that our next president will be a man who can inspire hope for this country, because hope is the first step. But once we grasp the hope and the possibility of all that is opened up to us, it is our decision. My decision. Your decision. I have been so hesitant throughout this election season to rally behind one candidate or the other, because I feel so strongly that it would be a very easy trap to fall into, that we would elect our next president, our next Congress, and then become complacent once again. My hope and my prayer is that this will not happen--because if it does, then we will have very little to show for a moment in our nation's life which could have been a great opportunity to really change the course of history. America needs us now, more than ever. I hope we are ready to respond.

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