Image via WikipediaReflecting on the moment that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, activist Eldridge Cleaver observed: “Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted” (quoted in the Politico article, "The Obama Revolution."). That statement reminds me of Martin Luther King's sixth principle of nonviolence, that "nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice." Every once in a while, a gear shifts and we all move that much closer to the dream of universal justice. Of course, these gear shifts almost always are subtle, sometimes imperceptible. However, occasionally there occurs a seismic shift, something so profound, so groundbreaking, that the world can't help but sit up and take notice. One of those "meta" gear shifts took place yesterday when Barack Obama, a man who was born when the cruel reality of segregation still haunted the soul of this land, was elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
Much has been said today about this historic event, and rightly so. Two pieces caught my attention this morning in the New York Times. The first was a blog entry by Charles M. Blow, called "And Then They Wept." He said, "History will record this as the night the souls of black folk, living and dead, wept - and laughed, screamed and danced - releasing 400 years of pent up emotion." I'll never forget the sight of the Reverend Jesse Jackson crying openly as he celebrate Obama's victory, or General Colin Powell choking up during a CNN interview. Blow finished by saying, "In fact everyone, regardless of race, should feel free to shed a tear and be proud of how far our country has come." I'm not ashamed to say that I watched Obama last night say "Yes We Can" with tears streaming down my cheeks as I grasped the magnitude of what had just happened. You see, when one person, one race, one segment of our population suffers at the hands of prejudice, we all suffer. When pain is inflicted on one, it is inflicted on all. Conversely, when the shackles of prejudice finally are broken and the powers of freedom are unleashed, a river of liberty flows to everyone of us. On this day, we have the right to put aside our fears of an uncertain future and to celebrate that a gear in the machinery has shifted and that the universe has moved that much closer to justice for all.
The second piece was Thomas L. Friedman's Op-Ed piece titled, "Finishing Our Work." He wrote, "And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended." Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I don't think so. Despite all of the struggles, all of the steps forward - Brown v. Board of Education, King's I-have-a-dream crusade, the 1964 civil rights act - the war against prejudice has continued. To be sure, racial prejudice has not disappeared, but as Friedman says, when a white majority elected an African-American as president, the Civil War came to an end.
Regardless of ideology, every American can be proud of what happened last night. However, that does not mean that every American has to agree with Obama or his policies. It does mean, though, that all of us need to rise to the occasion of meeting the perhaps unprecedented challenges that confront us. Two wars, an economy in disarray, health care costs spiraling out of control, Social Security headed for insolvency - these are not easy problems to solve. No amount of lofty rhetoric will make these challenges go away. However, for the first time in a long time, our nation woke up this morning with a rekindled sense of hope - hope that things can be different, hope that fear doesn't have to triumph over optimism, hope that we can live up to the promise of our forefathers that all people are created equal and deserve the same opportunities, hope that all people are entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and hope that the weight of our challenges will not tip the scales against the power and strength of our optimism, our believe in justice and fairness, and our belief that, whatever the challenge, the human spirit can overcome the darkest of times.
Some of you might think that I'm a little pollyanish tonight, that perhaps Obamamania has gotten the best of me. I know that there is work to be done. Obama is not the balm to heal all wounds, but he symbolizes healing, hope, a new day - so forgive me for my unbridled optimism just this once. And let me say it one more time - Yes We Can!