Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remember where you were today; your grandchildren will ask

As I write this, polling stations in the United States' east coast are opening and millions of people are queuing to take part in what feels to be the most important election of my lifetime.

There is the historical element, of course. If the polls are right, the United States will elect its first black leader and we can say once again that the American dream is fulfilled. Few histories are more tragic and painful than that of blacks in America. As a white middle-class kid from the suburbs I won't be so condescending as to pretend to be able to fully comprehend that history or how it feels to carry it around. I also won't suggest that the election of a skinny mixed-race fella from Illinois ties it all up in a neat bow.

I can remember from my own childhood seeing the "whites only" water fountains. The pipes ripped out and rusted, the fountains broken and crumbling, but the sign still there as a reminder that things were really shitty not so long ago. And that's a stench that still hangs in the air in some places. But this election is a chance to leap forward, a chance to show that thundering overwhelming all-consuming promise that lies at the heart of "the unlikely story that is America." (a) It is a chance for us to wave our middle fingers in the air and declare that we will not be chained by the sins of our grandfathers (b).

But the racial element has become a footnote. To me, this election is more important than that. The United States has reached a crossroads in its history. In the last several years we have set ourselves on a path to irrelevance. We have acted as crumbling empires are wont to do and the more cynical of us have declared that the end is nigh and scarpered off to other countries. To me this election has become very simple and very clear: a choice between the end or a new beginning to America. Not America the state, the boundaries, the government, the economy, but America the philosophy; America the shit they sing about. America "the nation built upon the lives and dreams of the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who left," in the words of Donal.

I'll be honest that either way, I will probably stay right here in Wales. I will probably stay on my course to become a British citizen. But this Welsh experience has taught me that I will never truly cease to be American. I carry it in me; I am of its earth and water and air. And I don't ever want to lose that. I hope to give it to my children: America the philosophy.

I am hoping, I am praying that this election will signal one of those shifts, one of those revolutions that Thomas Jefferson felt were so necessary, in the American mindset. Electing Barack Obama won't put a pretty bow on that story either, but it could write the first chapter. And maybe America can lead for another 100 years.

We'll see.

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(b) Full Obama quote is: "In the unlikely story that is America there has never been anything false about hope."

(b) I say that generically. Despite my grandfather's unfortunate occasional use of racially inappropriate language I have never thought of him as racist.

6 comments:

erin said...

Obama has my vote and I hope so much that tomorrow he is greeted with the title "Mr. President".

Donal said...

If you ever write a book about home, you should call it 'America, the shit they sing about'.

Polls closing soon, excitement building!

Mrs.French said...

so well said...thank you.

Eric said...

Dude, it happened. Seriously. Obama.
The Ron Paul showing didn't look good. And with all those home made signs I've seen.

mary said...

What a night!
Very happy this morning!

Sara said...

YES WE CAN!!!!

I waited 2 hours to vote quite contentedly, and cheered on the calling of the election for Obama in a bar surrounded by a thrilled and diverse group of medical and surgical residents. We cried. We hugged. We cheered. We saluted McCain for finally finding himself again in an eloquent and heartfelt concesssion speech. We noted that Obama is not just the first black President, but the first "second-generation immigrant" (Kenyan father) to be elected, a significance that transcends race.

I cried again tonight watching footage of smiling and dancing and music in celebrations around the world.