I love history and had often whined to myself that I wasn't lucky enough to have lived during a more exciting age: I sometimes like to think that I could have been a Tuskegee Airman, Buffalo Soldier or beatnik. Instead, I grew up in an America that often felt like occupied territory. After freeing Europe from the Nazis in the Forties, and then blacks in the Sixties and women in the Seventies, politically, the next thirty-odd years have largely been a depressing, embarrassing, soul-grinding drag. Throughout those years it often felt like the Empire struck back and would never return this nation back to its people. So I escaped in my mind, consoling myself by writing about the Airmen and the Beats.
But last night history came to me.
I love those pictures of Victory in Europe day in Times Square: all the confetti, all the young women and sailors spontaneously making out. Last night Times Square seemed almost as jubilant as back then. My Manhattan neighborhood fifty blocks north erupted in cheers and cars and trucks honking and spontaneous street parties till the early morning.
Is America really America again?
My friends, black and white, had been so nervous about yesterday. I'd been relatively calm. If the polls had been closer, then the Empire's dirty tricks might have been able again to put their thumb on the scale and steal another win. If McCain had been a more predictable servant of corporate interests than they might have fought harder for him. In the run up to election day I was sleeping pretty well.
Then imagine my surprise when, upon seeing CNN pronounce Obama the winner, I burst into tears.
It wasn't my first time that day. The kids and I both had election day off so after going out for breakfast we walked down the block to our polling place. Chet, my seven-year-old, wanted to stay outside and play. Ava, ten, wanted to come into the booth with me. I didn't even really know she could. I almost let Chet stay out then remembered that I was about to make history and brought them both in with me. The older black women working the polling station were all atwitter around them, counseling me on the best way to have two kids help me vote. "One pulls the lever back, the other forward," one of them advised. She must be a very good mom. They all applauded when my kids went in with me and shouted, "First time voters!" Inside, I lifted Chet up, against his protestations, and we all flipped the lever for Obama.
"What's the matter, daddy?" asked Ava as we headed back up the hill.
I had to breathe a few times before I could speak.
I'd voted for him in the New York primary but didn't yet see much of a difference between him and Hillary. I really just wanted our side to win. By any means necessary. And as a progressive, her politics on key matters like health care, were actually much closer to my own. Back then I voted for Obama anyway because, frankly, he seemed so much like me. But as the race wore on he seemed to get bigger while she seemed to shrink (the same thing seemed to happen to McCain). Then his magnificent race speech in Philadelphia cinched my full-throated support.
The old century stubbornly clung on well past it's sell-by date as we all suffered under the B Team from the Ford Administration. Yet today, almost nine years into the 21st Century, the future finally, actually, begins.
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