I stayed up late enough last night to assume Obama would win the presidency, and my husband woke me up to tell me when it was official!
During the campaign I haven't been sure that politically it makes a difference which of these guys won. They both support Israel to the detriment of Palestine (nothing wrong with supporting Israel, but let's support Palestine too! But not with weapons on either side); they both think sometimes we have to go to war to protect American interests; they both want to escalate the military action in Afghanistan; and they're both politicians who have made it to where they are by compromising with lobbyists and other politicians so neither can really be said to have stuck to his principles completely.
But then last night I was watching the reactions of people on CNN as they received news of Obama's success in various states. There were people of all ages and races, but what stood out to me most was the hope this gives to the African American community. Now, I wouldn't want to elect someone president just because they're black (anymore than I would want to elect someone just because they're female)--they need to be a good presidential candidate! At the same time, I'm really glad I voted the way I did if for no other reason than the symbolic effect it makes on people to see someone like them in the highest position of power in America. This is not only true in the United States, but around the world. But especially in the United States, this is a huge step forward. I've been brought to tears several times in the last 10 hours or so, one of the first being when Congressman Lewis from Georgia talked about his part in the Civil Rights movement, and seeing this day as a nonviolent revolution.
In class yesterday we got into a discussion about ideologies and I said I think most ideologies form around the desire for preservation of life, and meaning, and that although things are added to these basic goals, things that leaders say are necessary in order to achieve these goals, I think these are the basic things most people want. I asked if anyone could think of examples to the contrary. One black student said he sees the black community--especially young black males--in self-destruct mode. They are still seeking self-preservation for themselves, but this doesn't necessarily reach out to their community, so he thought maybe this was an example of an ideology that doesn't have these goals. I suggested that's maybe because we've all bought into the racist, sexist American "dream" too much so that we believe if we're not a white man we can't find meaning in our society. I compared the experience in the black community to that of women, who see two options: either I become "masculine," taking on all the characteristics of a successful person in our society and degrading anything that is "feminine" or "other," or I choose to live in the role assigned to women in this culture's ideology, which is a role but isn't really a meaningful role. Anyway, all that to say that if there's a way out of this, if there's a way of providing meaning for people who have previously been kept from "making it" in this system, if there's any hope for us who have been labeled "other" by our culture--maybe it can be found in someone who looks different from your average president actually taking office. Maybe that symbol will give hope not only to African Americans, but to women and Latino/as and whoever else feels like they've been forced into this false dichotomy of choices: conform or be meaningless.
I watched Obama's acceptance speech this morning, trying to eat my breakfast with tears running down my face. I guess I'm more patriotic than I thought--I just need someone who can actually live out the kind of hope I have for my country. Obama's not perfect, and as he said in his speech, "the government can't fix everything." He's gotten where he is partially by conforming with the dominant American ideal, so he has to continue playing that game now that he's in office--whether he likes it or not. And yet, he's not the same as all the rest. I sense in him a genuineness, a true desire to make a change, a strong resistance to doing what American presidents have always done just for the sake of tradition. I think he's going to be a good president--perhaps even a great one. Hopefully our foreign policy will rebound based on the fact that every other country polled thought an Obama presidency would be infinitely better than a McCain one. Hopefully he can truly live up to his promises, made in his speech last night, that he'll always be truthful and honest with us.
But I think he's managed--or "we the people" have managed--to renew a bit of hope in my cynical self.