05 November 2008
Yes We Can!
Last night, history was made in America, and I witnessed it.
How proud I feel. It is not often that we are able to know and deeply appreciate, in the very moments of our lives as they unfold, the significance of events in the stream of time. We all know that history is a revisionist's terrain, an exercise in looking backward, in editing, judging. How often are we allowed to experience history in the now? And how often do ordinary people claim authorship of it? History books are written by the winners of wars, the conquerors, the ones in power, yes? Yet I truly feel, on Election Day 2008, we were all empowered to speak, individually and collectively, and to send a clear message: Enough!
This sounds naive, I'm sure. Especially from a longtime cynic. But I remember the words of George Carlin, and I know their truth, that inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist. Well, today, I am not disappointed.
Last night, America elected the first (half) black man to the highest public office of the nation. Last night, America reclaimed for itself the image of a land where anything is possible, where if you dare to dream it you can achieve it. With the election of Barack Obama to the White House, America has again become the land of opportunity, has bought back the soul it sold these past decades. And what an opportunity that must be seized. We can, perhaps, begin to repair the damage to our international reputation. We can, perhaps, truly leave behind the past eight years of "regime change" and arrogance, war and torture, deprivation of civil liberties, and governance by fear. Perhaps we will be able to hold our heads up again when we travel abroad. Perhaps this will be a renaissance. The artist in me hopes so. Time will tell.
Today, though, I want to believe in possibility. I want to believe in the American Dream. It's the same dream that brought my own grandparents here from Greece during the first decades of the 1900s--the dream that was the difference for them between life and death. The dream they were willing to suffer for and never give up: not during the Great Depression, not during World War II, not during the social unrest and the race riots that came to their chosen hometown of Detroit in the 1960s. It's the same dream that my father strived to help bring about in the South in the 1950s and 1960s--yes, that dream, the dream of Martin Luther King, Junior, a man my father knew personally, and who lost his life for his efforts to make the American Dream color-blind. Finally, it's the same dream that lured my husband across the Atlantic: the dream of job opportunities that he did not have in France. We are a family of dreamers. Practical, feet on the ground, roll up your sleeves and get to work dreamers.
In 1956, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, with the State Capitol building a couple of blocks away, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke, as my father tells me, with the quiet confidence of a Biblical prophet: "It will happen. The day will come when equality will walk the street outside this church. It won't be easy; there'll be many crosses along the way, but it will happen. Someday, a black man will hold the highest office in the land. We may not live to see it, but it will happen."
I am so grateful that, although MLK did not, my father did live to see this day. I have lived to see it. And my five-year-old son, who is right now dreaming his own dreams with the night light on, has seen it too. Of course he cannot know the weighty significance of this event; he sees nothing unusual in what has happened. But this is in fact the biggest gift: that the eyes of his generation may see the American Dream in every color of the spectrum, take it for granted, and in the face of whatever future adversity comes their way, they will perhaps be that much better equipped with a role model in the office of the President who tells them: Yes you can!