Joy. Let’s start there. No, here. Joy is here and we’re a part of it. Let’s start here.
For those of us who have lived through eight years of incompetent and malfeasant American leadership, Joy has now earned a capital J, if for no other reason than to signify the celebration we’re all holding in our tired little American hearts for its return: Joy, the prodigal daughter of the American dream. Slaughter the fatted calf and fire up the barbeque pit, because Joy is back and she’s bigger than life.
President Elect, Barack Hussein Obama. I’m going to say it again, because I want to: President Elect, Barack Hussein Obama. And when I say it, I put my hand on my heart and goes dum-dum-ditty like it did back in grade school when the teachers told us that we lived in the best country in the world, the country that forges past prejudices, the great melting pot, the land with her arm raised in unison with Lady Liberty, enlightening the world; a bright, shining beacon of blazing hope on the horizon of humanity.
My belief in that beacon had been stressed and tapped; it flickered and sputtered under Bush’s administration, a feeble candle in the wind of blind bravado. And now that wind has changed direction. It’s fanning my flame. That candle is glowing bright this morning and my hand feels my heart burning with it. With this new president comes more than the hope he’s promised, more than his clear sobriety of judgment, more than his seasoned and stalwart thoughtfulness, and more than his stunningly inspiring charisma. This new president, as impressive and transformational as he is, will not be the animus that transforms this nation.
We will be.
And we already have been. Barack is the right person, in the right place at the right time. Americans, throat-scratchingly thirsty for change, crawled their way past the oasis of John Kerry, and kept crawling until they found him, the perfect prism through which to focus their newfound resolve to not only remake the country they once loved so dearly, but in doing so, to remake themselves and possibly the world in the bargain.
Yes, this is about political change and it’s about repairing the damage done by the (alas, for now) current administration. But this is also about individuals and communities, and if you live in America, you must have experienced what I have over the last few weeks: Unity from diversity, happening organically, in the most mundane and surprising of places.
Everywhere I went recently was abuzz with excitement and people from all walks of life, gushing with nervous, cautious optimism. My little Obama button earned me hugs from old white ladies, fist bumps from young black kids, high fives from blond cheerleaders, thumbs up from construction workers, and friendly waves from church pastors. More than all of that, I got to TALK to people. Really talk. Get right into it. Smear it around on the table and see what its guts look like. If you don’t live in America, maybe that seems commonplace to you. It isn’t that way here. It wasn’t. It hasn’t been until now.
Until recently, my neighbors kept to themselves. We might have given a friendly nod whilst passing on the street, at best. Americans had become very insular, letting their lawns and cars and averted glances protect them from one another. No longer. Now, when I stop by the bodega to get a candy bar or a bottle of juice, this little gay white boy and the big muscle-bound black clerk have shit to discuss, and it’s not just “Hey, it’s a beautiful day,” or “What did you think of Iron Man?” We get to talk about our country. Ours. Together. We’re Americans, and together, we changed the face of America. Implicit in all of these interactions, especially now between black and white Americans is the understanding that neither of these groups could have done this alone.
Barack Obama would never have been elected without the support of all of us, and it wasn’t half-assed, better-than-the-horrific-alternative Kerry-type support. It was full-on cheering and flag-waving support from people of all colors and backgrounds. And we all realize it. It’s hit home. It’s hit the gas station and the supermarket check-out. It’s hit our offices and schools and now we’re all looking at one another, ourselves, and our country with fresh eyes, wide open and sparkling with wonder and possibility. We as a people; Black, White, Asian, Latino, Native American, Arab American, and every other American variant you can imagine, faced seemingly insurmountable odds.
We did the most American thing you can do: We took a very, very big risk in the hopes of a very, very big pay-off. Had our gamble of electing the first African American president failed, look at what we would have had knocking on the White House door, come January. We can’t deny that we took a big, big gamble, but we did it as one united people and that unity won last night more than President Obama did. He knows it, and we should all be glad that he does.
Of course, this does not mean that racism is dead in America. It does not mean that all of our wounds are miraculously healed. It does not mean that we’ve made amends for our bloody and brutal past. It does not mean that Dr. King’s dream is 100 percent realized. But it does mean that we’re closer. Much closer. America made a giant leap last night, and from that springboard, may we steer her through the Obama prism into 8 long and glorious years of reconstituted faith in America, progress toward lasting peace in the world, and a reconciliation with a world that we desperately need and that has desperately missed the gleaming beacon of hope and progress that we once were.
Americans, and the world, should take gleeful solace in the implications made manifest by the clear contrast in the political camps last night. On Obama’s side were massive, scintillating, undulating throngs of hopeful and energized Americans; ready, willing and able to pull up their sleeves and make whatever sacrifice they must to bring back our standing as a force for good in the world. On the McCain side, a relatively tiny and inconsequential blob of bitter, squabbling haters. McCain himself took the opportunity to show those few, those willfully ignorant, those paragons of paranoia, what a true statesman is.
He conceded gracefully, eloquently, powerfully and beautifully. Unlike his hellmouth of a running mate, he fervently endorsed unity and embraced the ideals of democracy by booming out the message that the people had chosen, and chosen decisively. Gracious winners are a dime a dozen. Gracious losers are preciously rare, and we should all applaud Senator McCain for truly putting country first and refocusing his energy on helping Obama do what needs to be done.
So now the work begins, and as Obama warned us, it won’t be easy. But we Americans have already shown our power, a power that we’ve only just discovered at this late, but not too late hour. It’s the power of unity within diversity. It’s the power of acknowledging our brutal past so that we might some day firmly place it in history, next to other travesties that we now consider unimaginable. It’s the power of seeing communities in American transformed into something greater, literally overnight. It’s the power of seeing a world of billions celebrate that little silly thing we did, when we waited in line, checked off a box, and went home to sleep and wake up to a bright, brilliant, beautiful American Dawn, empyrean with possibility.