06 November, 2008

Florida Still Manages To Screw Something Up

O.K. Florida, yes, we escaped a recount this year and yes, you finally went blue. Yet your voters, who obviously didn't bother to research, much less read, those pesky ballot initiatives managed to prove we are not the post-racial country everybody is now touting us as. Bravo.


05 November, 2008

What It Means to Me

I have a good friend in Istanbul, a great Englishman with a keen mind and big heart. The type you can really tangle with intellectually over a beer or two. Certainly no fan of the McCain/Palin ticket, he's been sending me links to articles critical of Obama, calling them "reality checks". I love them because amidst all the jubilation they remind me of things I and others have to keep pushing for and will have to hold our new president to. For now, like most - literally - of this country, I am enjoying the moment. It doesn't mean I have forgotten that the world keeps turning, bombs keep falling, people people keep losing their lives, the planet keeps dying...

The landslide election of Barrack Hussein Obama - yeah, pause on that one and smile - to the office of the presidency will have great ramifications for the rest of the world, I suspect in ways small, large and surprising. Watching people around the world celebrate with us - the students at President-Elect Obama's former elementary school in Indonesia, his extended family in Kenya, the citizens of (no joke) Obama, Japan - has brought a tear or two to my eyes today. But, I am not sure they - you - quite understand what this election means to us.

It does not mean we are post-racial. I don't believe human beings will ever be post-racial; I think we'll always have those in our midst who are only capable of that pathetic, narrow mindset. But it does mean that the phrase, "Any little boy or girl can grow up to be president," now has new meaning.

It means that after seven years, we have a new, positive collective memory. "Where were you when...?" Until now, those three words have been reflexively followed by "on 9/11". It doesn't mean we forget that day, but it does mean that after seven years we can begin rebuilding our relationships with the rest of the world and try to proactively, diplomatically and practically alleviate the things that led to that day. Schools, clinics and functioning economies are far more powerful than guns, bombs and hate.

It means that we can start pushing back against the losses of the divisive politics of the last few decades. It means that we can start trying to bring people back together who were torn apart by lies, hate and fear. It shows that we're tired of the old ideologies and definitions. It shows that most of us aren't just desperately hungry for change, but that we want to get our hands dirty bringing about that change, we want a role in making this the country we know it can be, the "more perfect union". It means this generation has elected their JFK. I agree with Chris Matthews that public service will become cool again.

It means that the Democratic Party is now the big tent party - able to pull in African-American, Hispanic and other non-white voters while managing to improve their numbers with white voters. Footage of McCain/Palin rallies simply did not reflect the diversity of this country and the party's rhetoric certainly doesn't either. I hope this election means the moderates in that party will fight to take it back from the frightening, reactionary forces of the far right. This election means the Democrats are no longer the bracket party - clinging to the northeast and west coast. It's the start of a true nationwide party and seeds were laid in places where they are sure to grow.

It means enfranchisement is not merely a word. It means that people who never before saw their commonalities can, with a little help, find them and work together to attain shared goals. That so many of the divisions plaguing this country are mere paper tigers. It means their is hope for the idea of community in this country; that we may actually live up to the word united. It means that if all this hope and energy can be sustained and channeled, the results will be stunning.

It means that despite the fear mongering - "If he wins they'll riot!", "If he loses they'll riot!", "They'll take their revenge on us!", "He's a Muslim!", "He's friends with terrorists!" - this country did the right thing anyway. Fair weather "patriots" be damned. It means 527s and their money may not be as powerful as they thought they were. It means you can run a positive campaign and win.

It means we'll have a thinker, listener and consensus-builder running the country. It means science, reason and diplomacy can come in from the cold. It means new ideas will be elicited, not feared. I hope it means we're coming out of our low cycle of anti-intellectualism and xenophobia.

It means I am back in the U.S. and will likely dig in and stay a while; that there's fight left in this country yet.

One criticism of Obama supporters and all this is that all of us believe he can turn water to wine, walk on water, balance the budget in his first hundred days and bring about world peace in the next hundred. While there are, as with any candidate, followers with unrealistic expectations, I and most I know are thrilled to be able to follow a leader we respect, but are well-aware he's not of divine or extraterrestrial origin. We haven't drunk the Kool Aid, so to speak. I mean, we all know world peace will take six months at least. (I jest.) Is he perfect, God, the Messiah, the chosen one? No, but he is our president. And for the first time in a long time I'm very proud to say that. Will that change? We'll see.

So, give us some time to revel in this. In many ways, it has been a long time coming.


Post-Election Violence

My cousin's daughter, a first grader, voted in a mock election at her elementary school in Austin, Texas. She voted for now President-Elect Obama because, "he's smart." This being Texas, even in Travis County, McCain won in a landslide. On the bus that afternoon the kids were discussing the election and as they were getting off the bus, somebody asked A. who she voted for. When one second grade boy heard she voted for Obama he walked up to her and shoved her, hard. Luckily, A. has a posse. Their response when they heard? "He's goin' down." For the record, I do not support violent reprisals between political factions in elementary schools.


One Sad Note

UPDATE: Not entirely sure of this, but Rachel Maddow just said California will honor the same-sex marriages entered into prior to yesterday's passage of Prop. 8. I hope that's true.

California voters have narrowly approved a ban on same-sex marriage, Prop. 8. Unlike my home state (Florida) and Arizona, where voters last night approved changes to their states' constitutions to ban same-sex marriage - a superfluous move since both states had laws on the books defining marriage in ways that prevented same-sex marriage - same-sex marriage has been legal in California since June 17th of this year. As MSNBC host Rachel Maddow highlighted last night, California voters are not simply preventing something, but rather are taking an existing right away from their fellow citizens. Think about that. There is no word on what the ban will mean for the 16,000 committed same-sex couples who have married in the state since gay marriage became legal in June. I hope, but am sadly doubtful, that those unions will be allowed to stand.


04 November, 2008

Yes We Did!

It's just after 11pm EST and we have a new president. This is an amazingly early night, but it is over. The "skinny kid with the funny name," as he described himself, has done it. The crowds in Chicago, Kenya, and outside the White House are massive and joyous. John McCain is giving an admirable concession speech and trying to quiet the negative shouts of his supporters. Had he run a campaign more like his comments tonight, perhaps the results would have been different, at least somewhat. President Bush has called to congratulate President-Elect Obama. We're all awaiting his speech amidst a sea of people spread alongside Lake Michigan. It's a great night for all of us.


Trouble Already!

Just got an email from a cousin in Louisville, Kentucky, where I lived for a time, that polls have not opened in the neighborhoods of the West End because they cannot find the voting machines or poll workers. The West End encompasses most of the historically African-American neighborhoods in the city, such as Smoketown. Let's all hope election officials get this mess straightened out quickly and this isn't indicative of the kind of day we'll have in this country. Come on Louisville, you can do better!


Today's the Day

It's election day in the U.S. Lines are very long and hope is high within both camps. If you are a registered voter in the U.S. and you read this, please, please, be sure to vote. As long as you're in line, you have the right to cast your ballot, even if it's time for the polls to close. The estimate yesterday is that half the registered voters in Florida voted early and the numbers are high in other states.

Eighty-eight years ago, I wouldn't have been able to vote. That's not all that long ago.
I always remember that, somewhat viscerally, on election days. I also remember that less that 150 years ago, African-Americans and citizens of color were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. constitution. In reality it to the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s to truly begin securing that right. Violence has been mostly replaced by dirty tricks, though violence remains. Do not think for a moment that this country is post-racial. Even in my own family, I have one relative who referred to Sen. Obama as "the black" and another who screamed "You mean you would vote for a Muslim!?" at an Obama-voting relative. Both have said if Sen. Obama wins or loses African-Americans will riot in the streets. Fear is a multi-faceted and powerful thing. However, my grandmother in Mississippi, in her 90s, is voting for Sen. Obama, which is undeniably remarkable.

If you wonder why so many of us are hopeful about Sen. Obama, read this. To all you fearful folks worried about violent African-Americans and Obama supporters, read this.

I don't cry at movies, but I still love Frank Capra's films. They help me from being completely cynical and pessimistic. So, I am not ashamed to say that watching Sen. Obama and his wife cast their ballots in Chicago this morning, their daughters at their side, I teared up.

I remember standing in a field at Georgia Tech, not long after Sen. Obama announced his candidacy, listening to him re-ignite the hopes of thousands. I remember the giddy smiles on the crowd at the conclusion of the speech. I remember turning to a young woman in hijab next to me, giggling and agreeing with her that all of us in the crowd were now totally amped up to get out and do something, to take that hope and responsibility he talked about forth and put it into action. I also remember the friends I went to the rally with lamenting that he would undoubtedly lose to Sen. Clinton in the primaries. I stand by what I said before this campaign even began: this country is more ready to elect a man of color than a woman. That doesn't excuse the faults of the Clinton campaign or take anything away from the remarkable campaign run by Obama. I truly do not think most people thought we would see this day.

Certainly, I refuse to say this is over until it is signed and certified. I'm from Palm Beach County. I still have nightmares about going to bed with Al Gore and waking up with W. Now that most of the conservative pundits, even the ones who until yesterday were trumpeting Sen. McCain's potential paths to a "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment, are admitting that it looks to be going Sen. Obama's way, I feel a little better. But, to quote Yogi Berra, "It ain't over 'til it's over."


03 November, 2008

The Kids Are Alright

All the touch-screen tapping pundits on television have yet to loosen the knot in my stomach. This is Palm Beach County, where voting is simply assumed to be, at best, a messy embarrassment. Look what we accomplished in 2000. However, today, I got a little boost in the waning hours of this campaign.

My mother's elementary school help a mock presidential election. Everybody on campus voted - students and staff alike. The results were as follows:

Obama/Biden: 72%
McCain Palin: 28%
(Adults alone: Obama/Biden: 69% McCain/Palin 31%)

Here's hoping Tuesday will look as good. The kids are really excited to compare their results with the state and national returns later this week, to see if "everybody else is as smart as we are," as many students put it.


PS: The Ten Thousand Islands and the 'Glades were beautiful this weekend. Saw sharks "fishing", had a dolphin breach and swim right off the bow of my kayak and lost count on gators and wading birds. To be back in a kayak amidst the cypress and mangroves was the real homecoming. Made some friends and received an offer to guide trips in the future. Not bad, indeed.