Wednesday, November 5, 2008


An hour ago Barack Obama was declared the 44th President of the United States.

It made me think about the great advantage of having lived through the 1960s, when I would watch the evening news and see films of black people being hit with wooden clubs on Detroit streets, or sprayed with high pressure firefighting hoses in the deep South. I saw pictures of white men blocking school doors in Alabama so that black school children would not be able to share in the educational resources of the public school system. When the chief peacemaker of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and spoke to tens of thousands of Americans gathered on the Capitol Mall, I heard my Midwestern neighbors refer to him and his followers as niggers. After activist Malcom X was shot in the chest with a sawed off shotgun, while delivering a speech, I heard a clerk in our neighborhood drugstore say, “He got what he deserved.” In 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated on a balcony of a Memphis motel, much of white America did not grieve or even truly grasp the gravity of the loss.

I grew up in our racially separatist culture. I did not know any black people until my high school years, and even then everyone knew the rules – stay with your own. So, tonight is a societal bellwether in America. A paradigm shift of this magnitude is not only unprecedented, but life-altering. The revelers who gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park were understandably high-spirited and joyous throughout the evening, but if you noticed, when Barack Obama took the stage, after the initial hoopla, things turned quiet. Someone once said, “When it all comes together, it’s a quiet thing.” And it is. There was a reverence in Grant Park last night. Not toward the man so much, as toward the moment. Even the most ardent John McCain supporters among us should step back and honor the moment in American history that proved that Americans can honor and respect each other in ways we have not necessarily demonstrated before.

I want to remember Voting Day 2008 as the most human of all election days I have experienced. This was a story of true grit and human spirit. Some examples:
• In L.A., a pregnant Tracie Van Doren’s water broke as she was standing in line waiting to vote. After a quick trip to the doctor, she actually returned to the polls to vote before she gave birth.
• Young Rick Garcia told a CNN reporter he voted in honor of his brother, an American soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb on August 1.
• In Nashua, N.H. another pregnant woman went into labor at 3 a.m., but somehow managed to wait until the polls opened, voted, and then went to the hospital to deliver he child.
• It was revealed yesterday that Madelyn Dunham, Barack Obama’s grandmother, voted via absentee ballot on October 27. She died one day before her beloved grandson was elected the first black President of the United States.
• In San Antonio, Betty Owen, 92, dependent on a feeding tube and unable to walk, went to the polls in an ambulance,and voted from a gurney.
• In L.A., more than 300 homeless people who live on the notorious Skid Row, voted in Tuesday’s election. One of them said, "For once in my lifetime ... someone really cares about the small people out there."

And back in Chicago, Jesse Jackson, who was with Dr. King on the balcony when he died, was seen on camera with tears streaming down his cheek. As were Oprah Winfrey, and tens of thousands of others. Even those of us at home watching history unfold on CNN shed real tears. It was, and is, the historical moment that allows us to change course, to return to the original definition of America and to show the rest of the world why this country still sets the standards for the free world.

I wonder if Jesse Jackson and others thought last night of that night so many years ago when Dr. King died. People gathered in the streets and brought the concept of civil disobedience to a new peak. There were riots, fires, shootings. There was rampant violence and urban devastation. That was the night Mayor John Lindsey of New York City bravely walked into Harlem to beseech the citizens to honor Dr. King’s message of peace. But tonight, 40 years later, during this watershed moment, there is nothing but jubilation in the streets of America. Tonight there will be no broken windows, flames or shootings. Civil rights leader and Dr. King colleague John Lewis called it today’s vote a “nonviolent revolution.”

The President-elect told us why:
“…America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.”

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