2008/11/05

Yes we could!


Last night at friends' place in SoHo we watched the returns on all the channels -- even the Cobert-Stuart silliness, but mostly CNN -- with breaks for a delicious supper prepared by our hostess. We cheered vocally or silently as the Obama tally rose, while outside, as soon as he'd hit the winning number of 270 electoral votes, all Hell broke loose. Or Heaven. Or just terrestrial Exuberance. It was after midnight, after McCain's gracious and responsible concession speech and then after Obama's almost calm but elated appearance before millions of noisy fans in Chicago's Grant Park, after elegant Michelle in black and red and those pretty girls, after Joe Biden and his wife and son and little blond grandchildren and his tiny, grinning mother, after Jesse Jackson's tears and scenes of jumping and shouting before the cameras there in Grant Park and in Rockefeller Center and in front of the White House, and after a last glimpse of the subdued and somber faces at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, we smiled and hugged and said goodnight to our friends, and went out into the unseasonably warm SoHo night and the knots of buoyant revelers. It was like a second Halloween, but with patriotic rather than witchcraft themes. A young women all covered in red and white tinsel pirouetting on the subway stairs, on the subway platform a man of maybe 30 grinning and spinning for cameras to flair his kilt fashioned from the American flag. Those two and most of the others were all white, but with them was a young black woman whose glee was all in her loud voice rather than her costume, and five or six others who joined in the revelry. This crowd seemed to have snowballed, with a core group raising chants -- "Yes we can!" and then, as though just realizing what had happened hours earlier, "YES WE DID!" One girl leaned far forward from her seat into the subway car aisle and fairly screamed, "Now the great thing is you can go to foreign countries and not pretend to be Canadians! It's OK to be American!"

Yeah. That's how we all feel. We now, for the first time in at least 8 years, feel proud of this country. "It's OK to be American!" In fact, we're damned proud that we and our countrymen proved all the forecasts of a racist boycott so wrong. We've elected the best man, and his color just shouldn't matter. Except that it does, in a good way. It does matter that we, all of us, have shown that we can get beyond our racial anxieties, even if we haven't made them go away entirely -- because that will take a lot more work, and a lot more equality of opportunity.

The guy in the flag urged us to join them at Union Square as they ran from the 6 train to continue on the express to the real uptown, to Harlem, to party all night. He and the little group around him were all white, but they knew they'd be welcomed tonight in black America and they wanted to join the fun. We grinned and wished them well.

See also this good essay by Mark Engler, The Day After: Keeping Obama Accountable

3 comments:

RD said...

Just always, always you find the words to make me smile and to make me feel a part of the fabric of 'community.' I phoned people and wrote things for the Obama camp for twenty months. I took part in our state's caucus and, you know, it's a dream come true for me. It's just a beautiful event and we all must help for as he said we are together in this change. And yes WE DID!

Dirk said...

I’m certainly pleased and relieved that Obama will be the next president, but I found the election boring. Let me rain on the parade a little. He’s a good example of an American politician, not a transcendent force.
First met let explain some of my prejudices about politics. As Hillary Clinton is supposed to be, I am interested in policy. I eschew interest in symbols or personalities. And I try to make my perspective that of all humankind rather than any nation including America.
In eschewing symbols I am surely out of touch with the American electorate. I heard a quote from some pundit recently that the presidential election was a “quadrennial poll on quote who we are”. Not me. That’s one reason I’m not interested in Palin from the viewpoint of feminism. Having her even as President seems less useful to women than the Democratic policy, which in practical terms is more to their benefit. As another example: when the World Trade Center was destroyed it seemed to me a bad thing, but no big deal. Dozens of countries in the world suffer more from terrorism than we did that year alone since. Something like 20 times the number of Americans are killed annually in automobile accidents, but we don’t declare a war on automobiles, or staph infections, etc. I wan to say to the American public, it s bad, but get over it. But the American public did react hysterically (with Bush’s help) to the symbolism, and were saddled with the consequences.
And surely I am at least partly wrong in not paying attention to personalities. After all when you hire somebody for a job you hire a person, not his or her resume. And of course party platforms are forgotten before the ink is dry as we see with the recent Republican socialization of various financial functions.
Do I think Obama or McCain is more of the kind of guy that would make a good president? Don’t know, haven’t watched them.
So why is the election boring? It is because what I consider to be the major issues before humankind are being discussed little or not all. For example:
Disarmament. It does not matter if we are men or women, Muslims or Buddhists, free marketeers or planned economists, or whether we have an environment, and least of all what kind of health care we have, if we are all dead or mostly so. The planet is strapped with weapons of mass destruction and the record humankind it failing to use weapons is not good. I have heard nothing about either candidate that makes me prefer one or the other from this perspective.
Social justice. It is not okay with me that some people are rich and others are poor. Obama’s policy seems faintly more egalitarian than McCain’s, but not much. Out of curiosity I did watch the Palin/Biden debate. I noticed that poverty and the poor were never mentioned. Each candidate outdid the other to suck up to the middle class. No doubt middle-class Americans have problems, but compared to poor Americans, let alone the poor of the world, they are trivial.
What I’ll call the overburdening of the planet. I don’t know how many people this planet can comfortably support, further research and discussion are necessary, but I’m pretty sure it’s a fraction of the people who are here now. The election has involved a marginal discussion of issues like fewer dirty coal-fired power plants. This is like talking about whether you want to barbecue with gas or charcoal on the deck of the Titanic. Corollary issues that should be discussed are how to rapidly achieve zero carbon emissions, and reduce population, which includes a discussion of a planet-wide one-child policy. I favor it, but it is not even being mentioned. Likewise discussion would involved what sort of economics would b appropriate for a shrinking population (in the aftermath of the Black Death there was a economic boom). Etc. etc.
And there are narrower issues that were not discussed. For example, what socially useful functions should be allocated to for-profit organizations and which to non-profit? Amazingly, a lot of blood was spilt in the previous two centuries over issues rated to this. It seem obvious to me that things like roads, cable TV and healthcare should be provided not for profit while computers, groceries, clothes should not, but I am no economist, and I despair of an objective, informed discussion of this matter.
I dreaded the election of either one because of their spirit of military adventurism. McCain is an irascible soldier and Obama proposes military forays to kill bin Laden. Sure, guy, that will do a lot of good. The real problem for the US is to mitigate the hostility of certain groups of disaffected Muslim youth. I’m sure they’ll pack it in and say we love you Barrack if he offs their symbol.
I dreaded the election of either because it will mean an increase of the influence of religion in civic life either because McCain is hostage to evangelical Christians, or because Obama seems to me sincerely religious.
David Sedaris said being an undecided voter in this election was like being undecided between a good lunch and a pile of shit with ground glass in it. My version of Sedaris’s choice is two Big Macs, one with ground glass, one without. The choice was clear, but it was not interesting or nutritious.

gef said...

Thanks for spelling out so clearly your views, Dirk. I'm certain that this election does make a huge difference, however. Not because of the symbols (1st black president, great slogans), though those are important because of what is behind them (this particular nonwhite man and his values and abilities, and what those slogans indicate). This election opens up possibilities for collective action by ordinary citizens like you and me, action across both our internal and external borders, possibilities that were shut down to the max under GWB with his Patriot Act spying, Homeland Security excesses, and his utter refusal to listen when we demonstrated -- e.g., to keep from invading Iraq. The campaign (massive donations, creative Internet use etc.) has mobilized forces far greater than any administration could hope to control. And the man we elected doesn't have a philosophy or desire for "control" anyway -- he's a community organizer, one who gets others to act.

The only major politician I can think of who had a similar approach (don't laugh, but think about it) was Fidel Castro in his early years. That regime ultimately congealed, but the Obama administration can't in the institutional framework of the U.S. (Cuba had no viable institutional framework once the revolution smashed Batista, so no effective checks). But anyway, what happened to Cuba should be a subject for a future blog. Meanwhile, I hope you look at the sites I recommended in my most recent blog, on Obama's background and why he is such a different kind of politician than we're used to.