(The picture is a yard sign that my neighbor seems to be less proud of today than yesterday when I saw it while on my bike ride- it was a very nicely lettered sign in his front yard reading "Barack Hussein Obama- Think About It. I thought that would be a great title for my post and his sign would make a great picture. I found it by his trash can. click the picture for a close up).
Wow. I'm still not believing this. Yesterday was a day unlike any other I've had for many reasons. I began my day by rolling out of bed at o' dark thirty. That's 4:30AM. I had to be at the poll at 5:30 for a 6:30 opening. By the end of my day- 1:00AM, Wednesday, November 5th, America was a different country than it was when I woke up on election day.
The day at the polls was a fascinating peek behind the scenes of democracy, of civil service and a little too up close and personal with the very heart of Republican country. I served in a precinct that has to be over 90% Republican. I saw them all marching in with their sample McCain/Palin ballots in their hands. a pretty homogenous group. Well over 90% white. But, well educated, well spoken, well moneyed and deeply interested in their country. This was not the base that John McCain pandered to but just good old Conservatives. The day went pretty much without adventure. The lines were extremely long at 6:30 and stayed that way up until 9:30. We were afraid that we might be in for a very long, very tough day. But, at about 9:30, the crowds just went away. We expected a rush at lunch. None. Noon came and went- dead. We expected a rush after work. None. At 7:30 when we shut down the polling place, there was not a single voter in the building.
After getting things put away, at 8:30PM I was released from my civic duties. 15 hours on Tuesday, an hour and a half on Monday and three hours last Tuesday. Almost 20 hours all told. Democracy is a lot of work. When you break down my "pay" (assuming I get it), it'll be about $6/hour. And the system is a mess. The voter registration "system" is broken. The voting machines are not exactly a technological marvel. The training was confusing and at times contradictory. We still have long lines in many places to do something that should be a snap. But, the fact that we make the effort is inspiring. I'm so happy to live in America where we think it's worth it.
I gave Dad a call on the way over to Champps. Since I had been under a news blackout all day, with only a few minutes to grab Arby's, I had no idea what was going on in the country. Were the new voters Obama signed turning out or were they sitting at home watching on TV? Was Florida running smoothly? I heard a rumor that there big time problems in Cincinnati (Hamilton County would probably favor Obama 10:1). By the time I reached Champp's, CNN was already projecting over 100 electoral votes for Obama and just a handful for McCain, it looked like we were headed for a landslide. At Champp's, every Democrat in White Chester (I mean West Chester) was there. Here's the cool thing though. The bar was a sea of diversity. Young people (I mean down to like 8 years old), old people (in their 70s, maybe 80s), black people, hispanics, straight, gay (Vince my new pastor showed up), middle eastern people, you name it- they were there. I had to park across the street at the movie theater because of the crowd. I saw a guy getting Obama signs out of his car. I wished I had my Obama t-shirt on because this was one of those rare moments where I've been in a room full of Obama supporters. Every time a projection was made for a state to go to Obama, the crowd cheered like the Buckeyes had just sealed another national championship. Chants of Yes We Can circled around the room like the wave at a football game. It was a huge party atmosphere. We, the crazy dreamers in West Chester, had done it. Yes We Can turned into Yes We Did. We actually carried Ohio!
Around 10:45, we decided to head home with the girls. Obama was over 200 electoral votes and it looked like it was virtually impossible for McCain to catch up. They hadn't called any states in a while and I had been up for about 18 hours. We came home and flipped on the TV just about in time to see ABC call it (literally seconds after the polls closed out West) for Obama. I sat just stunned. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the adrenaline still flowing from being at Champp's. But, I felt very dreamlike. It was a feeling I don't think I've ever had before. My mind was telling me that I was witnessing history. But, something in me still said it was impossible. This cannot be true. So, I must be dreaming. I was scared I was going to wake up. I was scared some nut had gotten a gun into Grant Park. I was elated. But, still not able to fully grasp what was happening. I saw Jessie Jackson weeping openly. I heard John Lewis speak- the things that man has seen. It was one of those moments that will forever be etched into my brain and my heart.
I heard one reporter talk about the sea of black faces they kept showing. But, I'm not happy for black people today. Barack Obama is not the president of black people. He's the president of all people. Today, I am probably more proud of America than ever before in my life. The only time I can recall feeling anything like this was a week or so after September 11th, when we ALL came together and were just Americans for those few all too brief days/weeks. I think it will disturb a few white people to see so many black people celebrating. But, be of good cheer. We're not all happy because we have won some competition with you. We didn't win this election at your expense. We're so happy because we have taken a quantum leap (and I mean a quantum leap) toward achieving the one thing black people really want. It's not a hand out. It's not affirmative action. It's not victory at your expense. What we want is a true meritocracy. It's a land where the best man wins. It's for the most qualified person to get the job. The black candidate didn't win this election. The better candidate won. The candidate with the best connection with the American people won. The man who embodies the American dream won. The man with the better ideas won. The smarter man won. The man who ran the better campaign won. The man with the more steady temperament won. This is all we have ever wanted. For that, I do thank America.
This morning I woke up with the words of Muhammad Ali ringing in my ears "I shook up the world". Even though this victory was not about Barack Obama (and he'd be the first to tell you that), he is one of the few men in history who can say those words with all humility.
I want to give a shout out to John McCain. Last night, we saw the old John McCain that many of your yearned for during this campaign. I have mixed emotions about that wish. I have a lot of respect for John McCain. But, since my money was on the other horse in this race, I can't say I was too sad that McCain kept hobbling himself. If he had run as the man of integrity, honor and dignity that I know he is, I think the outcome of the election probably would have been different. Last night he was conciliatory in defeat, dare I say Presidential? and he made one of the best speeches of the campaign season. I don't know if he was relieved or what. But, he seemed more relaxed than I had seen him in a long time. He delivered the speech in a smooth cadence. It was obvious it was from his heart. I was moved. John McCain is a true American hero and should always be remembered as such.
Barack Obama, in his speech, did exactly what I expected of him. He has set the bar so high in my book that his speech while unbelievably moving was not surprising. He spoke with humility. He spoke of humility. He talked about getting to work right away. He talked about sacrifice. He talked about how America will be different in the world's eyes. There was no gloating. There was not even a lot of time spend basking in the well deserved glory. It was "It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work." Last night was not the end goal. Last night was the job offer to get the chance to work to the goal. For those of you who think Obama did this to feed his overly large ego, I think he will quickly prove you wrong. I think we will see an army of volunteers rise up, led by him, that will fundamentally transform this nation and I'm giddy about the prospects.
Today (Tony), the world is fundamentally transformed. Yes, my pipe that broke last night was still broken. Yes, I still have a ton of packages to move out of the garage. Yes, I have 200 unread emails since I was out all day yesterday. But, the world is a fundamentally different place because America chose a man named "Barack Hussein Obama" to be her President. To my neighbor. Yes, I thought about it. America thought about it. Maybe it's time for you to think about it again.