Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election reflections

The wheels of my plane finally touched down around 11:15PM in Seattle after a weather diversion to Portland and a long flight from Moscow to Atlanta. Despite mix ups at the car rental company and the hotel, I was still really, really happy to be here. Here to experience what it means to be American. Here to vote (or at least drop our ballots off). After watching what really was a fake election in Russia earlier in the year to elect Medevedev, I felt like it was important to be here. Home for what is a civic sacrament, the act of voting. While irregularities existed and people of color are stll disenfranchised in the US, my vote counts, my voice is part of the mix and it's my duty to make every effort to exercise that right.

The enormity of what we did yesterday still has not completely sunk in. I've blogged from time to time here about my thoughts on the first African American presidential candidate and, for me, more importantly the first biracial person as a candidate. But I watched not only African Americans, but Americans across the country, break down in tears as this great dream became a reality, but I'm not there yet. Maybe it's not being here for so many months or feeling so connected, or maybe it's just that I still can't believe it.

My heart opened as I watched Jesse Jackson in tears last night at Grant Park. For all his previous nastiness in this campaign, this was a moment of triumph for the road he paved along with so many civil rights leaders. A moment of merging Resistance and Hope, a trasncendent moment for all of us. I'm sure the pit in my stomach will eventually well up, but for this moment it stirs in my jet lagged thoughts of exhuberant, over-whelmed, amazing joy. Pride, a pride we haven't felt for a long time. A pride that this country once again will be respected and a pride that will be redeeming for those of us living overseas.

I do want to take this moment to share what we've seen overseas, what Russians told us about our election. I think back most vividly to a conversation we had with a Russian guy from Moscow in a Banya (outside, wood-fired steam bath) on Okhon Island on Lake Baikal this summer. Okhon is about as far as you can get from Moscow--only recently got electricity, no running water, truly feels like the end of the earth. There Tristan and I were (naked) on one side of the wooden hut, and this guy and his friend, also naked I presume, on the other. The wood stove is gradually heating up our room till we are sweating profussely. Our conversation was across a thin wooden wall with the stove in the middle. Curious, he asked about our election. In Russian, instead of black or African American, you say black-skinned person. Like many Russians, he said he would vote for Obama if it were his choice. For a country that is incredibly racist and really doesn't like black people (or Asians or foreigners for that matter), many folks we talked to said they liked Obama. I don't know if this is because McCain hates Russia and the black guy looks better than the one who wants the cold war back.

Regardless of the reasoning, it seems there choice was more out of fashion than substance. One of the Russian papers had a whole section on the election with pictures of the KKK and headlines about our racist ways asking if we were ready for a black-skinned President. While I have asked that question repeatedly during this election, I found it absurd to have the Russian paper paint the picture that the KKK was still mainstream when dark skinned (blacks and asians) in Russia are routinely beaten for the way they look and then blamed for instegating the situation. There are few places in the US where I won't venture because of my ethnicity. There are many places in Russia where I am careful because I know what could happen. My fear is real and justified.

Regardless of Russia's hypocracy on the race issue, I take great pride in this moment. I look forward to taking pride in being a diplomatic family abroad, to representing this country abroad. For all the damage the past 8 years have done to not only our reputation and position abroad but to the value of diplomacy, an Obama Presidency will restore our image abroad as a place of Hope, Opportunity and Lasting Freedom for all.

NY TIMES Opinion Piece

The Next President

Published: November 5, 2008
Barack Obama won the election because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens.

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