Thursday, November 06, 2008

A new day has dawned, has it not?

The only comparison I can put to the outpouring of relief and joy from 'real' America yesterday is that of the UK on that morning in 1997. Our steps were lighter and the world seemed clearer, the colours sharper, even through the exhaustion of the night before. Yet, that is nothing compared to the unconfined joy sweeping parts of America - apart from the whinging of the defeated Republicans, bitter that the Democrats had the organisation and the money this time.

I defy all except the hardest-hearted of neocons not to be moved by the story of the white southern family, who still have the receipts for their slaves, whose ancestors rode with the cavalry in the civil war and on Tuesday, the grandmother - a lifelong Republican voter - cast her vote for Obama. Or the 97 year old black man, in his wheelchair, who voted for the first time to put another black man in the White House. Or 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper

born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the colour of her skin. And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes, we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbour and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes, we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "we shall overcome". Yes, we can.

A man touched down on the Moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Or the pictures of Jesse Jackson - a man who stood with Martin Luther King (and who had tough views on Obama earlier this year) - standing in the crowd in Chicago, watching Obama and unashamed of the tears running down his cheeks.

Even Obama's personal story is straight out of the presidential playbook - son of an immigrant ascends to highest office in the land from relatively poor origins. Remember that when Obama was born, black men and women were disenfranchised across large parts of America, often prevented from registering to vote by force and living as second-class people, a century after slavery was abolished. Within forty years, America can elect a black man as President. Sure, that doesn't mean that racial problems are abolished overnight, but it shows that a new order is taking control of the political arena.

The political atmosphere for change has never been more positive, but the economic outlook is bleak. To quote Mario Cuomo, 'we campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.' Things are about to get mighty tough for President Obama. I wish him all the success in the world, because America deserves to do better and be better.

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