My friend, Lucy Bohne, an English professor at a state college near Erie, Pennsylvania, wrote to her daughter today about Barack Obama’s victory. Lucy did a fine job describing how many people feel the day after the Senator’s historic victory.
“Thank you for calling last night. It sounded like NYC had gone mad with joy! . . . I have spent the night in a roller coaster of amazement, shadowed by despair, counting the days between your birth and MLK’s murder. Twelve, to be more or less exact. That was the joy — to think that 40 years later your generation would hand the White House over to the leadership of a black American. That is an amazing thing! . . . The shadows — well, you know them. This amazing thing that happened in America — that only we, as Americans, can understand and share — won’t make a difference to the world, to the children in Baghdad, Beirut, Gaza, and Teheran, and all the other places in the crosshairs of our guns — unless we make that difference. Might as well be brave and strong and admit that there is work to be done, struggles to embrace, disappointments to endure.
But, for the moment, let us shed tears of gratitude for this moment of grace. It will be brief.
Considering that race is always the subplot to the American story, many of us surely will “shed tears of gratitude for this moment of grace,” no matter how brief.
As we move beyond today’s fleeting joys, I will recall how often during this presidential campaign people asked if I thought an Obama administration would by and large be a good thing. My response was always this: the best thing about an Obama victory would not be his policies — he’s shown too often they differ little from the status quo. The best thing his campaign and election offers is the way it has inspired millions of people to become active, to expect more, to work hard with many people towards something larger than themselves — in short, to gain a sense of purpose.
Then, if Obama’s inspired grassroots campaigners discover in their hearts that citizen vigilance and organizing are just as important as elections; that creating democracy from the bottom up is more important than our quadrennial extravaganzas; that investments of time and energy commensurate with their newly-raised expectations must be made — only then will we see change significant enough to make Obama’s election more than a historical footnote.
Who knows today what forces the hopes and dreams of this campaign may have unleashed? Who can say what historical events may be about to unfold, or how far they may go if we make conditions right for their growth?
More importantly, when our “moment of grace” is indeed found to be brief and we must regroup over and over again, will these new, hopeful campaigners be savvy enough to overcome the American appetite for instant gratification that today is found only in shopping malls?
That, I believe, is the challenge faced by all those who want schools and healthcare not empire and warfare; who want to “. . .make a difference to the world, to the children in Baghdad, Beirut, Gaza, and Teheran, and all the other places in the crosshairs of our guns.”
It is a tall challenge indeed. But if we are not up to it, who is?
Mike Ferner is a writer and activist from Ohio. Contact him at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.