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Yearning for Unity: Songs From the Choir

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Just in case you've already grown weary of the kvelling over our new President-elect, please indulge me one last gush. It's been a week since the election and I have a little kvelling of my own to do.

Drawing upon excerpts from Obama's victory speech and listening to some of the other voices from the choir this past week, I see a ray of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel we've been in, not just the past eight years, but since the first slaves arrived on our shores.

Barack Obama accepted his landslide win last Tuesday, not as the conquering victor filled with hubris, but rather as a humbled, public servant. Very early in his speech he said,

"And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress."

He spoke not of vanquish, but of unity. He reached out to those who may not share his vision, for like him, his vision embraces the diversity inherent in what it means to be an American.

"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your President, too."

He spoke of his audacity to hope that the original dream of our founding fathers, "to form a more perfect union", could still be realized 232 years after that dream became the guiding principle upon which this country was founded. He affirmed that we could still be a "government of the people, by the people and for the people" and that the definition of "the people" now truly includes those who do not look like the founding fathers.

"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."

I watched the election returns at the Oakland Convention Center, having spent Election Day at the Obama headquarters in Berkeley working the phones.

Among the thousands of people who gathered there to celebrate was a beautiful young man from Kenya who had come to witness history in the making. His cheeks glistening with tears, his face and spirit shining so brightly, his joy alone lit up the cavernous convention hall. But he was not alone. As he sang and danced his joy, a circle of love and pride formed around him that we might all share his and our historic moment. To cop an overused and often abused phrase, but one that seems so apt, "We were all Kenyans" in that moment.

It was a magical, transcendent "reverse Rodney King" moment. It felt like something shifted in our collective DNA. Joyous was the sight of children having their pictures taken in front of the huge screen broadcasting the Electoral College results. These kids will grow up knowing that they can become anything they set their hearts and minds to.

Barack's win is truly built on the shoulders of the American people who took the leap of faith and cast their votes for him. Without a guarantee of success, we have cast our fate in the direction of change he has laid before us. It is not now for us to stand on the sidelines with our arms crossed and say, "show me", but rather for us to stand up, step forward and participate in renewing the promise of our founding fathers.

"What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

Indeed, it will not happen without our all coming to the line and extending the promise of equality to people of all orientations. Yet the reality is, barriers remain.

HP blogger Pam Spaulding's post offers an excellent discussion of the controversy swirling around the passage of California's Proposition 8, which denies same-sex couples the right to marry. Read her post here. Also read Evan Handler's excellent post on this subject.

This is a very controversial issue and the fight for gay civil rights will continue as Prop 8 opponents take the battle to the CA. State Supreme Court. Clearly, there is more voter outreach and education to be done. Even Obama originally supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996 during the Clinton administration, until he was educated by the gay community of the devastating effects of this legislation on their civil rights. The champagne is still chilling and the toasts are put on hold for the gay community while this struggle continues to find resolution.

In spite of Proposition 8's passage, hope remains, as this election pointed to an enduring truth about our country:

"That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."

"It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other."

On this note, I was struck by the following commentary from Mark Shields, political analyst on PBS' News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the day after the election:

"...There are two competing narratives in American lore. There's the sheriff of high noon standing all by himself, taking on the raid forces, or there's the wagon train, going across the prairie, facing all sorts of threats, and along that wagon train, the strong protect the weak, we don't leave the old behind, that there is an obligation of each part of it to contribute to the whole."

Some would suggest the latter narrative is a form of socialism. Think about that for a minute. Would our ancestors have made it if they had not banded together as fellow pioneers overcoming insurmountable odds to seek a better life for them selves and somewhere down the line, you and me? No matter if you're a tenth generation or first generation American or if you just arrived here, the promise of America lies in the spirit breathed into its inception by its founding fathers and may I please add, mothers.

President Franklin Roosevelt said, "Remember, the measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, but whether we provide enough to those who have too little."

And even our dear friend Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world, echoes the mantra when he says:

"If you're in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%".

And so our president-elect reminds us:

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."

This then, is the rebooting of America, the resetting of our collective intention and a giant step in the direction of fulfilling our still unfulfilled promise of "a more perfect union" .

I realize many of you will have a different song to sing in this chorus, so let's have it. Please add your voice and let us hear your song and your thoughts. Or you can email me at: judith@theraisinyears.com.

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