Friday, November 07, 2008

The Significance of Barack Obama's Election

I don't want to belabor the recent election (heaven knows, I'm thrilled that it's over), but I want to share some thoughts about a conversation I had this morning.

The story actually begins at lunchtime on Tuesday - election day. As I was ordering my food from the black guy behind the counter, he asked me if I had voted. I explained that I hadn't done so yet, but would be leaving work soon to do it. As we chatted, I mentioned that Obama was expected to win. He asked, "Are you going to vote for Obama?" I answered, "Of course." A broad grin spread across his face and he extended his fist across the counter, saying, "Give me one." We did the fist bump thing, I walked away with my tray, and my mind immediately turned to other matters.

Fast forward to this morning. As I entered the dining room to get a cup of tea, this same man, who was cleaning the beverage counter, said to me,"I was talking with my 72-year-old father last night. As you can imagine, he's seen a lot of stuff in his lifetime. He's excited that a black man was elected president. It just means so much to him." I answered, "It's a huge step forward for our country."

As I sauntered back to my office, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a 72-year-old black man in America. When this man was born in 1936, lynching was still a white man's sport in some parts of the USA. Segregation of public facilities was the norm all over the country until 1954, when this man was 18 years old and Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation in public schools. He was 27 years old in 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the enlightened and inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial (my eyes still tear up every time I hear or read that speech). In April 1968, when he was 32 years old, there was a bleak period when Americans of all colors feared that Dr. King's dream might have died with him in Memphis.

This man has spent a lifetime watching our country struggle to realize the visions enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, "all men are created equal," and in Dr. King's speech, that people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
I'll never know what it was like to live this man's life and see the things he's seen. I'll never understand how deeply Barack Obama's election inspires him and so many others who have been oppressed for no other reason than that some people are cruel, others are ignorant, and others are just stupid. I do know that Mr. Obama's election stirs a hope within me that my country is ready to repudiate its savage past and move ahead to forge a more just society. If Mr. Obama's election means that much to me, I can only imagine - barely and inadequately - what it means to my friend's father and millions of others like him. I'm proud to have participated in this historic moment and I'm looking forward to watching President Obama take his oath on January 20, 2009. I know that there's a 72-year-old black man who will be watching that ceremony with me.


Dave said...

What is unfortunate is that the extreme still exists....saying "he is not my President." Hopefully the number of extremists will decline as they come to respect the work Obama is doing for the nation.

Evie said...

James Dobson and his horde are devastated that Obama won the presidency.

A spokesperson for Focus on the Family's Citizen Link said, "in the Bible, God worked through pagan rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar, Darius and Cyrus to accomplish his purposes, and that values voters ought to begin praying for President-elect Obama. God can use any president for his own purposes.”

First, Obama is a Christian. He may not be the sort of Christian that Dobson approves of, but he is a Christian.

Second, even if Obama were a pagan, a wiccan, a Muslim, an atheist... so what? The USA is not supposed to have a religious litmus test for its political leaders.

On the other hand, even though the Democrats control both houses of Congress, Dobson and his merry band are ecstatic that the Democrats will end up with only 57 senate seats rather than a filibuster-proof 60 seats. This will make it a bit harder for the Dems to enact all of the legislation they may want to pass. This is not all bad, from my view, however, as it will compel the Dems and Reps to work together to get stuff done.

Dave said...

The statement made by Focus On the Family is akin to the Dole television ad attacking Kay Hagan (see my blog of 30 October). As Dobson has increasingly moved to the extreme right, his messages have become more judgmental and bitter in nature.

Dobson no longer has the broad hearing he had 25 years ago when he was centered upon helping parents to be better parents, helping families to deal with interpersonal difficulties and issues faced within families, and helping people to have stronger relationships with their neighbors. Much of the Church and a good number of those who rarely attended services on Sunday were reading his work and listening to his wisdom. Now, that valued work that is still needed is lost.

Evie said...

Focus on the Family has gone completely cuckoo. They made a comparison of the peril that they believe Obama's election presents to the Nazi bombardment of England in WWII. This garbage is unconscionable and gives evangelical Christianity a very bad name.

Barbara said...

I can't imagine what it would be like for that man you wrote about. It is such an historic moment in the US. It's too bad that so many still can't see beyond skin colour.

Joanne said...

People here recognize the significance of what has happenned as well. It's interesting that our staff meeting last week started with an excited discussion about the ramifications of the US election the night before