When I moved out to California two Augusts ago, I had several moments a day when it just hit me: I live here! It was a little rush, a moment of recognition that my life was different in excellent and as-yet-unexplored ways. I still get those moments, especially when I get a glimpse of fog running in torrents through the valleys across the Bay, but also at seemingly innocuous moments.
Ever since driving back from Nevada last week, I’ve been struggling to organize my thoughts about what happened, and having a similar experience. I’ll see commentary about President-elect Obama, or a photo of Obama going about his business, or hear a clip of now-irrelevant President Bush saying something foolish, and I’ll realize “I live here.”
I live in a country which elected Barack Hussein Obama, despite all the idiotic vitriol directed at him, at his skin color, at his mere name, and at the ideas which motivated his candidacy.
I had several of those moments on election night. I felt it in the grins on the faces of everyone at the ballroom in Las Vegas. There were black women doubled over with tears of joy as the TV announced Obama’s victory, 10-year-old black children grinning excitedly as they watched history, and a bartender spilled the wine he was pouring because he was so excited. “I haven’t spilled a drink in decades!” he swore. The Obama campaign truly did bring people together, often in very strange ways. My girlfriend and I ran across a reporter at the victory party who not only went to high school with her, but went on a bicycling trip with me one summer in high school.
That ability to bring us together was more obvious the previous Saturday, when I saw Barack Obama rally the troops in Henderson, NV, and then when Michelle visited us at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas on that Monday. Tens of thousands of people came to see them speak, including children too young to vote. They’ll remember those visits, though, and know that they too can achieve whatever they set themselves to.
At each event, it seemed like a majority of the license plates were from California – volunteers like me who traveled hours to help be part of an historic event. It takes a special kind of leader to inspire so many hundreds of people to make a long journey, and to give up so much time for their nation and their future. The thought struck me at the time that I hope with all my heart that they don’t screw this up.
Evidence continues to accumulate that they will not. Yesterday we got solid indications that orders will go forth on January 20 to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and to bring the prisoners there to trial or to freedom. Hearing that reminded me “I live here.” I live in a nation of laws, where human rights are respected, and we create institutions to balance power against power, so that the power of the state can be used to protect powerless innocents.
Elections, as pundits love to say, have consequences. And the consequences of this election are more profound than a range of political and judicial appointments. They are more significant than the expansion of labor rights we’ll see, and the final progress we’ll see toward a solution to the global climate crisis.
The consequences go beyond even an end to torture and warrantless wiretapping of citizens. Those changes will be part of a greater change back to the simple fact that we will live in a nation that strives toward the greatest ideals, that works to bring light to dark corners, and which will stand against tyranny not only abroad, but in our own government.
I live here. And I’m glad of it.
Glad, too, to have been part of that change. And proud to say I won’t stop pushing for these changes, whether that means pushing against opposition to Obama from Bushite dead-enders (cf.), or opposing the Obama administration’s own intransigence (as I did on the FISA expansion). Under the Bush regime, such protest was dismissed with a wave and a declaration that “I don’t pay attention to polls.” We can hope that dissent will be treated more seriously now.