It’s been a helluva day.
I’d like to say, up front, that while I’m writing this, I’m listening to Joni Mitchell sing “California” and my friends are protesting holding a funeral for human rights at City Hall in San Francisco. I am conflicted. I am a California-boy, born and raised. And I love this freakin’ state. And I refuse to believe that the old, intolerant, homophobic slim slim slim majority (of registered voters) will hold sway in this state much longer. I refuse to give up on the hope that this, too, shall pass.
I was never naive enough to believe that we would all wake up on Wednesday morning, November 5th, and all the racists, all the fascists, all the demagogues and homophobes would have been magically transported to some underground lair or deserted island where they could fight it out and leave us the hell alone. But it’s still a bummer.
Despite all that, despite the pessimistic tone of this post, I really do want to revel. I really do want to soak up this moment. I am a cultural historian and a sociologist by trade. And while I usually aim those tools squarely at Buddhism, they come in handy when looking at American society and culture and history. And I may not know much, but I do know I am a big believer in the power of symbols, the power of narrative and myth and ritual. Yesterday. Was. Huge.
When Barack Obama was born, it was illegal for his parents to get married in twenty-two states. His father was never a United States citizen. His mother, a divorcÃ©e, carted her kids off to Indonesia. His middle name is Hussein. And he went up against an bona-fide war hero.
By all accounts, by all estimations of our history, Barack Obama should not be president.
But not only did he win enough electoral votes to become “president-elect,” he won seventy-nine more than needed to. Not only did he win (at least, as of this writing) 349 electoral votes, he won 52% of the popular vote, a larger percentage than George W. Bush in 2004. Not only did he win a larger percentage of the popular vote than George W. Bush, he won a larger percentage than Jimmy Carter did, the last Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote. Not only did he win a larger percentage of the popular vote than Jimmy Carter, he won a larger percentage of the popular vote than Ronald Reagan did in 1980.
This. Is. Huge.
Like I said, I am a cultural historian, a sociologist. And I know the power of symbols, the power of narrative. Policy might not change much. We’re likely to be mired in some war somewhere for most of the next decade. And lord only knows if this sea change in American public opinion is strong enough to move the deeply entrenched Big Oil or health insurance company interests to make real change in health care or the fight against global warming. Real change, I know well, is often glacial. Real revolutions are often noticeable only on the long-scale of history, rarely in the immediate now.
But sometimes. Sometimes. Extraordinary things happen. Did you see Jesse Jackson cry in Grant Park when Obama took the stage? Jackson marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., was there when he was assassinated, was on the Today Show wearing the blood-soaked clothes he was wearing when it happened. That was but forty years ago this past April. Some of you reading this were no doubt alive then. Barack Obama was seven.
There is much work to be done. The world is still crying out for justice. But today, today, I have hope that we’ll get there. Today we have proof of that possibility.