Disclaimer: Please rest assured that this will be my last stab at being serious for a while and I promise to return to just being a jackass forthwith.
There have now been 13 Presidential elections during my lifetime. I have no memory of the first one (Kennedy) because I was, uh, like 9 months old. Similarly, I don't remember the one that gave us LBJ, because I continued to be a completely self-absorbed child at the time. Sue me. I was four.
I do have memories of the '68 Election. 1968 was a particularly frightening time in America and even an Eight-year-old would have had to have been living under a rock to be unaware of the country trying to tear itself apart.
Here's something that struck me last night. For as long as I can remember, the gathering of supporters at some ballroom to watch the returns has been a staple of elections. This is where the faithful gather to witness either a concession or victory speech. Everyone else stays home and watches it on TV. Or depending upon their level of apathy, they may go to bed figuring it won't hurt anything if they wait til morning to find out who won. Last night was different.
Last night, people gathered in the streets. Obama, knowing that no mere ballroom could contain his supporters, made his speech in front of thousands in Grant Park. People gathered in Times Square outside of ABC Studios and likewise, did the same in Rockerfeller Plaza outside of NBC Studios. All of those, admittedly, were manufactured gatherings, but I'm confident that they were, in part an answer to a perception that people were going to go into the streets no matter what.
How else, does one explain the crowds that spontaneously appeared in Harlem last night? Or the one that appeared to celebrate outside the White House? I'm not sure what happened around the rest of the country last night, but I'd be shocked if those were the only spontaneous celebrations that broke out.
And that's only right. We have a great deal to celebrate. Don't get me wrong...I have no illusions that everything in America is going to be all sweetness and light on the morning of January 21st, just because the Obama Family will have moved into the White House. But, oh, just think of the opportunity. I truly hope that the first 100 days of Obama's administration are devoted to rolling back the excesses of Bush's tenure. Please open Gitmo to some open oversight. Please tell America to take a deep breath and calm our asses down about terrorism. Please remind us that having the National Guard patrolling in Penn Station is useless and wrong and that no terrorist is planning an attack on Ypsilanti, MI in the first place. The list of things we've allowed Bush to do in the name of illusory safety is huge and needs to be erased.
Regardless of what Obama is able to achieve in the next four years, though, his election itself is an accomplishment to savor. No, I never seriously expected to see a black man elected President of the United States in my lifetime. Yes, I'm deeply moved by it. I'm proud that so many Americans were able to put race aside and to elect the man they thought best for the job. Polls last night were, as expected, showing that an overwhelming majority of blacks were voting for him...96% in many exit polls. But Obama outpaced Kerry among whites by more than 10% In Ohio and Pennsylvania.
I don't make a habit of looking to Whoopi Goldberg for inspiration but her post on WowOWow is worth reading and gives some insight into how blacks in America are feeling this morning. She said much the same thing on The View this morning. She alluded to the fact that, as a black woman she's never felt like America was truly her place and finished by saying, “Today I can finally put my suitcase down because I’m Home.”
If Obama's upcoming Presidency has imparted that feeling to the rest of black Americans, it has produced a fine legacy before it even gets started.