Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Turning the Corner

I don't have enough time before I have to go to work to adequately describe the emotions I'm feeling this morning, and it would take me a lifetime... generations... to come to terms with the fervor and elation I encountered on State Street last night. All I can do is try to provide a snapshot.

On my way home from work, I swung by State to just kind of get a feel for the downtown and campus reactions to Barack Obama's winning the presidency. I'll be honest as well: after spending the evening in Republican headquarters, I was looking for a few celebratory high fives as well.

I was overwhelmed by what I found.

As I arrived, a spontaneous parade was rending its way down State Street. There were thousands of people, people marching toward the capitol for no reason other than they had no where else to go, but they couldn't go home. They were too elated.

People were standing on the sidewalks chanting. People were running up to strangers and hugging them. People were waving flags, wearing them like capes, wrapping up in them like they were warm, comfortable blankets. High fives were inescapable. Everybody was grinning and laughing. Black folks and white folks were standing arm in arm and just yelling for the hell of it. I'm pretty sure most of them were strangers prior to that night.

My buddies Ben and Branton showed up on the street, and Ben burst into tears immediately. He admitted the waterworks had been going all night.

It was an exciting night for me, and for anyone who takes their love of country and progressivism seriously. For Ben, Branton and me, it marked the end of eight long years of gritting our teeth at misguided foreign policy decisions, an economy fueled by rampant greed and some of the most Paleolithic social beliefs seen in the White House for decades.

Eight years, and we were pushed to the brink. I can only imagine how it felt for the black men and women on the street. They had been waiting for last night a lot longer than eight years.

"This is the first time that the American flag has meant something to me," one young black woman named Maya said. "Today, for the first time."

She was weeping openly.

"I can remember looking up to this as a little boy," a black man, Zack, said with tears shining in his eyes under the street lights, "as a little kid, thinking it was impossible. And this...and then it happens. And it happens!"

"This is our moment," another guy yelled, darting in through a small, growing crowd of people who wanted to tell me their stories and grabbing the proffered microphone. "This is our generation's moment right here!"

He then informed me, "I'm gonna hug you now," and wrestled me into a bear hug as the crowd started to chant, "Yes we did. Yes we did."

And yeah, I guess we did.

It's going to be very easy to be very giddy for the next couple of days, but I hope that the enthusiasm I saw on State Street last night NEVER wears off. One battle is won, and soundly, but the work is only just beginning.

Last night was the night we turned the Titanic, but righting her will take a wholly different struggle. There will be no overnight transition. Our nation is in bad shape, and it will take more than the enthusiastic supporters who rallied in the streets, in the bars, in their homes last night to restore our country to what it once was, and then better it further.

That... that belief that there is no end to the quest for self-betterment... That is the America we were raised to believe in, and that's what we have to remember as a nation striking out for these next four years, and, indeed, the future of our America.


Emily said...

Here here! I'm bummed I didn't get to join in the festivities on State St., but the High Noon was pretty jumpin', too. :)

Feels good to be part of a positive moment in history for once.

MattRock said...

I also offer a resounding, "here, here!!!!"

DebW said...

This sounds like a wonderful night - you describe it so well! I wish we could have been there. In little old (conservative) Monroe, we had to create our own parade - one open convertible with 3 screaming teenage girls in back, and 4 jubilant on-lookers, cheering them on.

isainmdom said...

hey dusty - aisling here.
i really enjoyed reading this post. on this day, i had similar inexplicable emotions. i'm in kenya at the moment, and a couple of friends and i rented a cheap hostel room on election night so we could watch the election results roll in (we're staying with host families and power outages are a daily occurrence). at 7 am nairobi time, when obama took to the stage in chicago, i cried. a shock to me, someone who has clung to her foreign passport to make sure no one assumed that this girl with an american accent actually IS an american. i'm ready to apply for citizenship upon my return, something that i never thought i would feel so strongly about doing.

anyway, hope all is well. greetings from the home of the father of the president-elect.