1/19/2009

Yes We Did

The night of the election, I was working on a film set. It was one of our last days at this old house in Council Bluffs, our special effects day. The tech guys were inside, working with the director and director of photography to figure out how they wanted to rig a bunch of light bulbs to explode as the lead actor runs through the house, where the camera was going to be positioned, etc. There wasn't very much for the rest of the crew to be doing, so many of us gathered outside and watched this little TV set the neighbor had brought out for us, so we could see the election results.

It was a nice night, not too cold yet, and everyone was giddy with excitement. The local crew members had voted that morning, and the out-of-towners had voted early. My father and I had gone to the local election office to cast our ballots the week before, because I was worried the line might be too long on election day and I didn't want to be late to the set.

As the results began coming in from the eastern states, we called them out over our walkies, like we were updating a sports score. As more and more states turned blue on the map, the excitement grew. The air was almost electric as this small crew of 30 huddled around the television, sensing the inevitable. Some of the crew were from Chicago, and they were constantly on their phones with friends back home, talking and texting about the enormous crowd in Grant Park. We all felt envious of those fortunate enough to be there.

I remember the clock striking 10 o'clock and the west coast voting came to a close. Looking at the numbers, Obama's victory wasn't in doubt, but we needed to see it. It wasn't official until they called those final states. And then they all fell like dominoes, Washington, Oregon and California, all blue, all for Obama.

We cheered and hugged, the movie we were making forgotten for a short time, as chants of "Obama! Obama!" echoed in the cool night air. There were tears in many of our eyes that night. Thinking back on it now, I come close to choking up, the enormity of the occasion is almost overwhelming, even more than two months later. It wasn't simply that we were finally done with George W. Bush and his criminally incompetent administration, though, of course, that was something to celebrate in its own right. We, all of us, had elected to be our president not only a man of intelligence and thoughtfulness (a sharp contrast to the bumbling fool of the previous eight years, to be sure), but a black man to boot.

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, and I urge everyone to seek out and listen to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, really listen to it, and think about where we stand as a nation 46 years later. Racism and hatred still exist, both here at home and across the world. War and poverty still rage across the face of the globe. Dr. King's ideal is far from reality, but think, just think, that tomorrow America will have its first black president, and while we may still have a long way to go, the journey doesn't seem quite so far as it once did.

Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States. I honestly thought I'd never see the day, but that night, November 4, 2008, America did something I long thought impossible, given my cynical nature: America surprised me.

It's going to be a hard, difficult slog through the quagmire left behind by W. and his cronies, but it doesn't feel as hopeless as it once did. America has been a tragic joke for far too long, and we let it happen. All of us are to blame for what we allowed to transpire in our country and in our country's name. Now it's time for us to fix what we broke, our reputation, our honor and dignity. I no longer feel ashamed of my country, as I have for much of the past eight years. That night, November 4, 2008, restored my faith, if only a little, in the promise of what America can and should be. We took that pivotal first step, of which I am immensely proud. But we have to keep moving forward, away from the broken, charred husk of what Bush turned us into, what we let him turn us into, toward that bright, gleaming beacon of hope we've aspired to ever since Thomas Jefferson put quill to paper more than 230 years ago.

As Obama said in his acceptance speech in Grant Park:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

...

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."


Amen, brother. Now it's time for us to get to work.

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