February 15, 2009

Wow! Happy Presidents Day

At his final rally in the general election Barack Obama looked out at the crowd of 75 thousand gathered in Virginia late November third and simply said “WOW”. That’s my wrap up of the past year. After wondering in the wilderness of the Bush Administration I can finally see the light. I feel like the past eight years were lived in a fog of fear, greed, and hatred. John Kerry described the previous administration; I believe the word he used was “thugs”. It gave a reading of the temperature in Washington, DC--brutally cold and ruthless. With Bush winning a second term I dug in for the next four years the one bright spot-Bush would definitely be out after this term. John Edwards was the first to announce and I remembered liking him when he ran for vice-President and wishing he were at the top of the ticket. John Edwards was saying all the right things focusing on poverty, health care, and speaking to the working class. I supported his candidacy and when Obama announced I openly blogged on Edwards site for a partnership with Obama, not caring in what order the ticket fell, I did believe America might have to be eased into a black presidency, maybe with a vice-president first. I worried about defeating the Clinton machinery, but by late fall 2007, I was solidly an Obama supporter.

Things heated up when the voting began, I rushed home from work January 3rd to catch the results and listen to analysis. I was hoping for an Obama win but did not underestimate his major competitors Edwards and Clinton. I watched as the numbers began to come in---oh my goodness, the inevitable candidate came in third and the freshman Senator from Illinois pulled a major upset. With that win came a tectonic shift in the political landscape.

Iowa was significant because it changed minds. I was a firm believer before, but Iowa made me move into action, I started getting involved in the Obama campaign, donating time and money and I didn’t looked back—I had never volunteered or gave money to any presidential campaign, this time I was “FIRED UP”!

The Democratic Convention was the best convention ever; it felt grand but mostly American. The convention offered everything by way of political theatre—there was the so called tension between Obama/Clinton camps and after seeing Michelle and the girls on opening night I don’t know how the media continued pushing that story. Hillary’s speech on Tuesday followed by the drama of the nomination of Barack Obama on Wednesday officially brought the primaries to a close and showed the real tapestry of America as delegates danced, cried and cheered—it was reality TV.

Paired against the war hero John McCain, Obama presented a tough but consistent campaign for change. By not choosing a woman to be his running mate Obama left the door open for John McCain, as I blogged during the primary if Obama didn’t chose a woman John McCain would in an attempt to split the female vote. Barreling through the door of opportunity John John McCain played the female card, choosing an unknown Governor from Alaska. When John John McCain chose a woman I realized he was going to be engaged strategically and wouldn’t just give up. The media immediately began the marketing of the Republican VP, this could have been a brilliant move on McCain’s part but it backfired because John John McCain and his running mate represented all that we needed to turn away from: war, Vietnam, racism, sexism, hatred, fear, lies, ignorance, Bush. Just as it had stunned The Clintons during the primaries, the Obama organization made political minced meat out of the John McCain campaign.

Obama and his surrogates fanned out across the country; there was Michelle, Joe and Jill Biden. He also had Bill and Hillary Clinton, political icons. There was real drama all the way through. During the primaries Obama rolled out his endorsements or policies at key moments to emphasize the influence or deflect from an unfavorable story and he continued the trend in the general. His logos were artistic and as simple as the message. The name Barack Obama and the Obama “O”, the words “hope” and “change” are synonymous with our now Presidents campaign. Then there was the man himself. He was dashing, well spoken, knowledgeable, tough, likable, strategic, decisive, and un-corrupted, an elite political athlete. The message was simple, and stayed that way his voice striking just the right tone. I was down in the Dominican Republic early last year, wearing my Barack Obama gear declaring myself part of “Team Barack” with “Obama 08” on the back, a woman came up to me, she was from Italy and noticed my shirt. She barely knew English and I knew zero Italian but somehow we had a conversation about Obama and the American election. “I want him to win” she said clutching her chest. “We hope” I responded and she said “yes, we hope” and we hugged. Showing his political superiority during the final months of the general Obama dominated in organization, headlines, fundraising, debates, and finally the Electoral College. This was the most interesting and fun election ever, looking back all I can say is “WOW”!!

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Washington DC for the Inauguration ceremony; I had never done that before. I was sharing this moment with my daughter a first time voter. She said she never thought she would see and African American president in her lifetime and she is only twenty. We arrived in Washington in the early morning hours on Sunday but you could feel the excitement. When we woke up later that morning and stepped out of our hotel for breakfast we were swept up by the river of people marching to the concert being held at the Lincoln Memorial, forgetting breakfast we joined the throngs and headed towards the memorial. The crowds were amazing, I saw people with walkers and wheelchairs, and I even saw someone on crutches. There were children of all ages none of them complaining, all of them anxious for the same thing “Obama”.

I walked around DC for the next couple of days dwarfed not just by the large stone buildings but the rich history. I thought of those who came before, Harriet who ran, Sojourner who preached, Rosa who sat, and Maryann who sang. On the morning of inauguration the scene was crazy, streams of people filed down every street for the mall or parade route. We cheered and chanted, danced and ranted all in the spirit of celebrating this dynamic moment. Yes it was cold but after a while you just got numb and anticipation was the temperature, There was people as far as the eye could see as diverse in age as we were in color and I’m quite sure background. It was a beautiful mosaic that formed one big picture called America. We--the people had done this. We had all gathered together as Americans, this was our moment and we were coloring in our pages of history. As a Jamaican national living in this country for thirty years for the first time I was proud to live in America. The inauguration was grand and steeped in traditions and protocol; it was majestic and yet still felt very festive and cozy even with the millions of people. All I could say was “wow”.

Standing on the mall watching Obama getting sworn in as the 44th president my mind passed over the fact that not far from where I was standing Washington crossed the Delaware in the war for independence and landed on the U.S. Constitution. I gained a new respect for those who had written the document, the foresight and wisdom they exhibited in drafting something so fluid that would allow someone like the Obama family who would have been slaves in their days to be able to ascend to the White House. Like Obama, they too had put themselves on the line facing the greatest challenges of their day. I thought of the debater Madison with his federalist paper, Jackson through trying times, Lincoln struggling with the state of the union, and Wilson declaring war. Roosevelt faced with Depression, Kennedy and Johnson walking the tightrope of the Civil Rights Movement. They were fearless visionaries and it was their day as well.

Now we are celebrating Black History and Presidents Day—it seems fitting that these two holidays coincide sharing the same month because “Black History” is “American” history, not myths but real men and women who advocated democracy and fought for freedom. We celebrate not only those who created the documents that govern us today but also those who fought to ensure the documents lived up to their potential. People like Homer Plessey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Howard Thurman, Malik Shabazz, Huey Newton, and Martin King Jr. We celebrate those who moved barriers and those who crashed through. They would have been on the mall on January 20, 2009.

I feel an urgency that must have permeated the society during the days of those great Americans and although we are celebrating progress I remember the mission to create a more perfect union. As exemplified in Washington DC in the past couple of weeks the debate lives on and there is a real struggle for the consciousness of America. Obama has already articulated that his election is not the change we seek, we need a change in the mindset, we need to build on the shoulders of those who came before and not be ignorant about what they were fighting for. In case you forgot here it is:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” –Preamble, US Constitution,

My daughter said to me the other day “This Presidents Day means so much more to me now” words I never thought I would hear from her but she was also speaking for me. I finally had full appreciation for the men we were supposed to honor on Presidents Day. This Presidents Day represents the realization of the declaration that “all men are created equal”. It is an American holiday to pay homage to those who stood up when it wasn’t easy in order to move the country forward ideologically, it’s the Preamble and we have just taken a giant leap, moving ever so closer to a more perfect union. I can barely think of words to describe the moment, all I can say is “WOW”.

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