Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And now the real work begins.

I stayed awake last night to hear the victory speech (which was terrific, I thought, and struck just the right note between celebration and the soberness of realizing how much hard work he -- and we -- have yet to do), and long enough to hear one network finally call Indiana for Obama. (He won by about 1% here, or maybe a little less -- which is really quite phenomenal, given how strongly Republican Indiana usually is.)

Fell asleep with the TV on, and when I woke up I held my breath for a moment until I heard someone say "President-Elect Obama." It wasn't a dream. And there were no dirty-trick surprises overnight.

I don't think I can really say anything about this election that hasn't already been said. President-Elect Obama is almost exactly my age -- he's a couple months younger -- and although his life & mine have been very different, we share many of the same cultural referents. We were in kindergarten when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (My parents let me stay home to watch the funeral on TV; I didn't really understand what had happened, but I knew that people were sad and angry and that a great man had died in a bad way.) We were kids and young teenagers during Vietnam and the heyday of the civil rights movement. When we were finally old enough to vote, Ronald Reagan got elected President. (I didn't vote for him, and I'm guessing young Obama didn't either.) And when we were forty-seven years old, we got to elect a visionary, compassionate, intelligent, courageous -- and yes, African-American -- man as our next President.

Did I imagine that this could happen in my lifetime? Yep. And I still believe it is very possible that I will see a woman President elected in my lifetime, too. And did I leap off the couch shrieking and crying hysterical tears of joy last night at 11 pm when the networks declared the Obama victory? Yep. If you'd asked me "can the U.S. get over itself enough to elect a black man as President," I would've said yes. But when it really happened, when that particular dream became reality, the sheer force of my joy and exhilaration took me completely by surprise.

My excitement is tempered somewhat by the passage of Prop 8 in California and several other anti-gay and anti-choice ballot measures in other states. It is ridiculous that we still live in a country where an entire group of people can be refused the same civil rights that other people have, just on the basis of who they happen to be. But I believe -- I truly do believe -- that if we can elect Barack Obama, we can make the world a better place in other ways. We CAN change the world for the better, if we work hard enough and if we believe. If yesterday's victory taught me anything, it is that hope and belief are powerful things. And so, it's time to get to work.

* * * * *

Capping off an unforgettable 24 hours, today I went to a fantastic reading by Billy Collins & Kay Ryan. I'd heard recordings of Collins reading before, but hadn't seen him in person; and I hadn't even heard recordings of Ryan. They were both terrific, and played off one another really well. I don't know if they have read together often, but if you ever get a chance to see them together, you should go. They are both funny, charming, personable readers. I was a little worried for Kay Ryan since she went second, and I was afraid that following someone as hugely popular as Billy Collins would be tough -- but I needn't have been concerned, as she more than held her own and won over the sizable audience. Good stuff.

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