In college we learn to be skeptical of claims like the ones being made about Barack Obama's historic victory. For today, forget it. His win really does signal a new day for America and the world. Let's think critically tomorrow, and today let's just enjoy the satisfaction of a hard won battle. His presidency, right out of the gate, accomplishes the tremendous toppling of symbolic barriers that have been the rule and not the exception to the full participation of all ourselves, our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and family, regardless of their race. Now when people talk about the Bradley effect, there will be Obama's example as counterpoint. Or will we talk about the Bradley effect? Less easily will people wonder about a great leader's capacity because of his race.
Today we should celebrate these things. Come tomorrow, I've got some thoughts. Okay...is it tomorrow yet?
The metaphor of a new day is a powerfully seductive and false one. The coming of a new day doesn't signify an entirely new world. When I said that people will less easily question a leader's capacity because of his race, my choice of a gendered pronoun did not come out of a desire to adhere to outdated rules of grammar. This campaign season was terrible to Hillary Clinton. Gender roles and stereotypes are still very real and powerful forces stacked against women, and I'm guessing this is especially true for women candidates of color. For women's rights today has not been an unmitigated success either. More than one state came dangerously close to limiting abortion through ballot initiatives and at least one, Nebraska, voted to ban affirmative action. And let's not pretend it isn't needed or just because Obama happened to win this election. The same day that Barack Obama won. Or, heaven forbid (this could be taken literally or sarcastically, depending on one's views) that a candidate should be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered or "queer." The same day that California voted for Barack Obama by a margin of more than 60% was the same day that voters set a course toward overruling a decision by the state's highest court that allowed same-sex marriage. The people of Arizona and Florida easily passed amendments of their own banning it. By a margin of 57% Arkansas has banned gay couples from adoption children.
Several key battles have been lost today. The lines of conflict in the culture wars have not disappeared with Obama's victory. We can't be complacent enough to believe that we've lost these mere battles only to have won the war in Obama's election. Somewhere in Arkansas there are couples who can't have children now.
I don't mean to downplay the presidential choice. This is huge. I have been a supporter of Barack from the beginning, even when that meant weird looks and hostile or dismissive scoffs from Clinton supporters. I believe deeply in the power of Obama's leadership over time to change our country for the better. Obama's win is not just symbolic fluff--this is the real deal.
But the next test for young people comes tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, when in an age where Americans and especially we young Americans demand instant gratification we will see whether change can come fast enough or whether young people will stay engaged long enough to see the potential for change through. I know that we can. Young people embody the change that we can believe in, and I do believe in it. We just need to commit to it. So, for one, I am publicly committing myself to doing just that. One of the great joys of this campaign is not just that we can have faith in president-elect Obama and the return of integrity and thoughtfulness to government, but the fact that through his campaign so many people have come to have new faith in themselves and each other.
For young people the next test of stamina is not Barack's, but our own. To some extent we can relax. Not everyone has to be a full time activist--just look at the difference part-timers made to the president-elect's candidacy. It's just important to remember this isn't over. Today a gay couple's chances of adopting were stamped out. Today the chances at equal opportunity of women and people of color were stamped out wherever affirmative action was banned. One of the most significant changes in the history of our country happened today in the election of Barack Obama, but if we young people commit ourselves to getting involved or staying involved even though the election is over then we can make this twice the coup that it already is.