Wednesday, November 05, 2008
What pride really feels like
Seems likely everyone around the world knows by now---Barack Obama is our new 44th US President! Not surprisingly I imagined millions of people in forgotten countries huddled keenly around shortwave radios, perhaps even more anxiously awaiting the final words, knowing that their own fate would be largely affected by those words, and the fate of many others. I'm pretty sure joy could be considered an overall reaction in many of those countries.
I find it difficult to express my emotions in poetic enough words. I feel so privileged to have been home in time to have watched the tail end of this process, just enough time to get me hooked, hooked on Obama, enraptured by his genuine inspiration, and swept away with charged hope. I remember the first time I read one of his speeches, made at a graduation commencement ceremony at Wesleyan University. I was moved to tears in the middle of the public internet cafe. No one is a perfect President, no one can make the perfect decisions, but I am overwhelmingly of the belief that he is capable of doing great things. He has unified so many Americans, and largely people who needed unifying. He has brought together people who never thought they'd consider themselves in the same "camp". He has something in him that so many can identify with. Yes there are still many who criticize, whose ideological hangups and insignificant issue ranting prevent them from seeing the hope and what it means around the world. Yes, there are many who begrudgingly claim that he only won because of his skin color and that the only ones who can be excited and affected are fellow African Americans. I couldn't disagree more. I somehow feel I can identify with him every bit as much as African Americans in this country, though perhaps in different ways. I feel as though I elected him every bit as much as the rest of the nation, that my voice for the first time was heard.
During the last election, I was abroad, and having never received my absentee ballot, was unable to vote, rendering me impotent and useless in one of the few aspects of the political process where I DO have a say. It felt so disabling to see something occur that you could do nothing about, and watch it develop against all your hopes, against all your beliefs, sweeping you inevitably with it merely because you share a similar citizenship or national affiliation. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I watched my and so many others' decision to mark a significant and beautiful name finally demand and affect change. I couldn't remember the last time I could honestly say I was proud to be an American; in fact, I spent most of my years running away from it, denying and ignoring it, regretfully admitting my nationality and immediately justifying "but I don't agree with what has been done in our name". A shame, and surely due in part to a certain level of immaturity. But all things aside, last night was the first time I can remember that with streaming tears I felt truly proud to be an American and to say that I took part in the first good decision we've made in awhile. I felt proud of the people that make up this country, rather than feeling a "WTF?" moment and wondering how I could feel so differently from my peers.
I feel proud to say Barack Obama is my new President not because he is "historically" the first African American President (although that does send some happy shivers down my spine, particularly the fact that he comes from mixed ethnic, religious, and national background)--this, though significant, is in some ways not the reason he was elected--but because he is a man of honor, steady calm, extreme intellect, ingenuity, courage, and so much more. Instead of feeling lukewarmly happy that we got a mediocre Democrat into office, I feel elated that we got the perfect candidate in there. I don't feel that he is the "typical" Democrat, certainly not just any candidate, but I feel he embodies the best of many worlds. I truly believe he will take us in a new direction, one we need to go in. One that involves pride through community and international service, fairness to a larger population of Americans, increased importance to education and healthcare.
It will get harder before it gets better; hopefully no one is too disillusioned as to believe that it is cake and ice cream from here, or that every single set of hands won't be needed in order to affect this change.
But for this moment, I just want to treasure how I feel. Seeing hundreds of thousands of Americans on TV blissfully crying at our new hope, leaving the plaza without one occurrence of violence or disrupt. No bitter fighting, just unity. Thousands of faces in every shape, size, and color, holding hands and cheering. Powerful.