Anyone not under a rock for the last week is aware of not only the domestic, but international scent of excitement that continues to fill the air with political optimism, the result of the election of Barack Obama. I, like many others, read the articles, watched the news stories, and saw the poll numbers that illustrated how popular our President-elect is abroad. However, it was not until I traveled this week to the Netherlands for a conference sponsored by the Club de Madrid that I realized that I am no longer a citizen of the country that I was three weeks ago.
The Club de Madrid, a pro-democracy organization whose membership is 70 former heads of state, convened a Global Leadership Forum on Shared Societies. As an invited speaker, I prepared myself to talk about the work myself and others have done on civil rights and human rights, the conflict resolution between blacks and Latinos, Christians and Muslims that challenge the notion of a truly shared society in the U.S. However, the only thing many of the leaders, moderators, and even participants wanted to talk about was how I, as an African American man, was feeling about the new President-elect.
Beyond asking about my opinion on the November 4 results, it was as if I was being rewarded for the decision of the U.S. electorate. Everyone from local Dutch youth leaders to former African and European heads of state expressed their excitement and confidence in the change possible from an Obama administration. Nevertheless, if that was not enough, I was surprised when a young woman at a restaurant felt compelled to come to my table and after confirming my nationality wanted me to thank "America" for making the right decision. Congratulations and proclamations of excitement followed me to the extent that even my feelings about the country I had just days earlier departed shifted. I was seeing first hand the power of the vote to not only select internally, but inspire externally.
The few days I spent in Rotterdam filled with conversations on the challenges facing our global community as we struggle to create a shared society. The plethora of leaders and other participants who attended also recommended solutions world leaders, communities of faith and the broader citizenry could actively engage in. From climate change to issues of migration and immigration, we were presented the wisdom and practical experience of former Presidents from Tanzania, Mozambique, Ireland, New Zealand and even President Clinton. I felt privileged to be a U.S. representative to the Club de Madrid event that has a mission to be the type of bridge globally that many say President-elect Obama has been in the U.S.
Yet, I am not confused by our extended celebration in the shadow of our historic election. We as a nation have much to do before the U.S. can claim favored nation status in the hearts and minds of our global neighbors. However, I must admit how good it felt to travel abroad for the first time in years without being frowned upon by the rest of the world. For now, I am a citizen of the United States of Obama.