Last night, a short time after 11pm in New York, while watching news coverage of the 2nd most historic day of my life, my friend Chad and I had the same realization at virtually the same moment. The shot lingered on several people triumphantly waving the flag of the United States in Chicago's Grant Park, awaiting Obama's victory speech. Chad looked at me and said out loud what I was thinking. For the first time in eight years, maybe longer, the sight of our flag made us truly proud.
I'm writing this mainly to my friends and family spread out across this planet, for it's you who didn't have the privilege of standing in line to vote for a leader you have such deep concern about, yet stayed glued to the results just like we all did here, and from what I could gather based on your excited calls, texts, and emails, shared in our elation at the election of Barack Obama as our next President. I want you to know that having had the priviledge of traveling to many countries over the past few years and listening to your concern about the state of the U.S., has enlightened me and made me truly understand that no matter what flag we cling most closely to, we are all humans sharing the same home, and often the same hopes and fears. I have been embarrassed by the decisions of my country in recent years, for which we all are now paying the consequences. We can blame our leaders, but ultimately, we live in a country where we elect our leaders, and whatever consipiracy theory you want to raise about how our last President came to power, the fact remains that a solid half of the people living in this country elected him, and many others didn't even exercise their right to vote. So while traveling and talking to you, and hearing the anger and confusion in your voices directed not towards me, per se, but towards my country, I always felt in some way responsible - even though I personally DID vote and not for the dude in office. I would empathsize with you, but never would I accept that the United States was evil. At times, I admit, I felt like it was the end of the Roman Empire, but inside, I felt that America was better than that. The country founded on freedom of speech, separation of church and state, checks and balances, where all "man" is created equal is better than that! It is for these, and many other ideals, that the world has always looked up to America. We may have lost sight of them in recent years. But just look at what happened.
We were given the choice between a war hero political veteran who earned his esteemed reputation mainly for standing up to members of his own party to fight for changes he believes in AND the son of a Kenyan immigrant who never saw the color of his skin as a boundary to achieving his visionary ideals, who was able to come seemingly out of nowhere to defeat an "unbeatable" political machine (the Clintons) and truly earn his shot at the Presidency by inspiring a renewed faith in the very ideals I listed above. He is the embodiment of the American Dream. Honestly, even before last night, I was proud. John McCain was not Bush, and if he had been elected, the negativity that may have resulted would not have been a reflection on him, but rather on the mess the party he was affiliated with has created. The tidal wave was already growing, led by Obama, but powered by us, the people who no longer feel content to watch hopelessly as the world burns around them. Obama's election last night proved to us that yes, we can. I don't feel cheesy saying it. In fact, I was watching Obama's speech last night with some of the most cynical New York hipsters, and by the end, we were all yelling it. Yes we motherfucking CAN! We did. And we will.
After the victory speech last night, I was walking on Bedford Ave in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's a place where you would expect to see people celebrating in the streets. But hearing the helicopter overhead, and then seeing the mass of police lining up in riot gear, I came quickly to realize this wasn't just a celebration. The entire street with crowded with people, young and old, chanting "O-BA-MA" in unison. Peacefully. Exuberant. And when the police moved in to clear the street for traffic, the crowd began cheering "NYPD (New York Police Department)!" Seriously, these police officers had to struggle not to smile. Nobody was hurt. It was not a time for violence and everybody realized it.
It's a glorious new day. People are smiling. We are all inspired, once again. As Obama made clear last night, the world is in horrible shape and we have an enormous amount of work to do to fix it. I just hope that America can truly take a step back from the greed and power grabbing that has gotten us into this mess and embrace the idea that the only way we're going to make it, is together. It's not about black or white, rich or poor, American or non-American anymore. At least it feels this way, and for once, I'm gonna decide not to let my cynicism or fear knock this down. I hope you'll do the same.