오바마의 당선 수락연설을 지켜보던 한 참가자가 감격에 겨워 눈물을 흘리고 있다.
"One of the attendees come to watch the acceptance speech is overcome with deep emotion as tears stream down her face."
I, being a pretty private person and a guy who was raised on Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and a good measure of constrained male gender roles, slid into the back of the crowd when I saw the speech playing. I broke down behind the bar, and was a blubbering mess for about a minute, then did the "man" thing and acted all calm and cool, like I had just gotten something in my eye. Umm, both of them. At the same time. Ahem.
And there were video cameras there, too, so I made myself scarce. I'm a man, dammit!
I must say that I didn't want to go to the Dems Abroad thing because I was watching the same MSNBC feed from home (which rocked, by the way!) and I feared getting emotional about something like this, because I knew it had the potential. I'm very liberal, I'm black, I'm an Obama supporter, and the basis of doesn't lie in either of those first two categories; I really feel that Obama stands for a whole lotta different kinds of change.
But I'm also a guy, and a photographer, and I didn't want to be the guy in the picture. Because that's the picture *I* would have been on the lookout for. It felt like I was setting myself up to be the cliched shot if I went, and I knew that the Korean media was converging on the Orange Tree for their "foreigner Obama reaction" shots.
But there's another but: I felt the desire to be with other cheering supporters stronger than the embarrassment I would feel if I got all blubbery. And after the reality started sinking in after Obama won Ohio, President Barack Obama had become a reality. So I made my way down to Haebangchon and caught just the acceptance speech.
I started getting weak at this point:
"In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.
Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too."
Tearing up. Crap. Lip quivering. Dammit. Kryptonite...weakening... me. Must...get to...safety...
The speech was working me not just because it outlined a vision of BEING American that was nothing but a barely-remembered dream during an administration marked by meanspiritedness, divisiveness, and sometimes even hate (look at the embarrassing examples of humanity that surfaced in the McCain and Palin rallies) -- and it was clear that MY people were assuming center stage now.
It was like being liberated -- not with troops and tanks rolling through some city square, but with return to what's truly great about America: being dreamers, a people who lived according to our ideals, who don't believe in unjust wars, vilifying entire races (Obama's an Arab!) or religions (Obama's a Muslim!) and forgetting the principles (umm, 1st and 4th Amendments, anyone?) that define our people.
It's the vision that I laid down in a heartfelt blog post back in 2005, when we were still in the heart of our American darkness: "America, the Theoretically Beautiful, as Written by a True 'Conservative.'"
They weren't just words to me, because I'm a scholar and teacher of American history, because I knew exactly the kind of American I wanted but hadn't seen for most of my adult life, and because Obama -- from his very existence and the possibility of him becoming President of the United States to his policies and the other things I agree with him on -- was like this mystical golden child.
Except that this movie wasn't starring Eddie Murphy. And it wasn't a movie.
It was getting pretty real. And Obama had used one of my favorite Lincoln quotes (also used in X-Men 2, by the way, for those paying attention) to boot. Not here's where I, for some reason, became a blubbering mess and hid behind the bar:
"To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."
I don't know where YOU lost composure, if you did, but that was it for me. America IS a country that is defined by nothing other than "the enduring power of our ideals" and I felt the re-connection at that moment with an America that had been marginalized and forgotten, or when brought out and brushed off in unguarded moments, was laughed off or mocked as "naive" or weakness or just "liberal fantasy."
No! Torture is wrong. "Rendition" (i.e. secret arrests and kidnapping) is wrong. The executive branch using the 4th Amendment as toilet tissue is wrong. Vilifying "A-rabs" or attacking a candidate for being a Muslim is wrong (correct answer: "So what if Obama WAS Muslim" -- thank you Colin Powell, for having the brass to point that out to those who didn't get it). Basing patriotism on whom we want to intimidate, silence, or arrest is wrong. Basing that same patriotism on whom we want to bomb is wrong.
This was not the America I had come to know through my experience with the good people I grew up with in Ohio, or through my own studies of US history in college, or through even deeper research in my graduate work.
The US invented democracy -- sorry, Canadian guy in the bar who was yelling and gesticulating that it was the French. That's what grade school textbooks say, or old World Book encyclopedias, but a closer look at history proves otherwise. The American Revolution started in 1775 in terms of the shooting war, and was essentially an incident that snowballed. But the ideological momentum behind that, which resulted in a Declaration of Independence in 1776, was of a real political and SOCIAL revolution. The ancien regime was no more; people stopped taking off their hats and bowing to "their betters"; black slaves echoed the cry of "freedom from slavery to England" and really began dreaming of a reality of equality -- and as the moral rectitude of the Quakers grew into a real abolitionist movement in the 1830's, and into a near firestorm by the 1850's, before John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 became a harbinger for the Civil War -- the ideals from that founding document of a true, class-and-status-demolishing democracy were in full play.
The French had been enamored of Benjamin Franklin when he came to France to enlist the support of that country in the American revolutionary struggle, and it was his everyman demeanor, even his beaverskin hat, that became all the rage with French high society. Things American became quite popular, and the jettisoning of social classes was thought of as quaintly refreshing all across Europe. When the French Revolution had come and gone and former royalty were being similarly jettisoned from society, along with many of their heads, one direct inspiration was the Americans having fought long and hard to do so from 1775. By the time 1789 came along, the American Constitution had been inked and signed for 2 years -- and the relatively egalitarian previous Articles of Confederation and various state constitutions were already working within the rubric of real, working democracy.
And the march of revolutions didn't end there: the Haitian revolution succeeded under Toussaint L'Overture , which took the French's main base away from them, which is why they lost the ability to effectively manage their trade in the middle of America in 1797, and which is why they sold the "Lousiana Purchase" to the US for a pauper's price in 1801 (land claims transferred in 1803). Even the Russian Revolution in 1917 and Ho Cho Min's consitution (and pretty much every "democratic" constitution in the modern era) owes a huge debt to the original democratic constitution of the US. And ours got done without heads being chopped off.
Cynics point out the contradiction of slavery, or that women weren't included in the language of that founding document, or that Indians were removed and murdered, etc.
Well, yeah. America's hands have always had the stink of blood and moral turpitude on them. Who is arguing that? But as much as any other aspect of our original sins, also written into America's DNA is the fact that the idea of inherent, essential equality was created by that document, by the "revolutionary republicanism" of the moment that produced it, and the overall culture of egalitarianism that resulted from it -- which led to people demanding the rights that they felt were promised ALL human beings, guaranteed by the "inalienable rights" of the Creator (no, this doesn't mean they were Christians, but it was just a way of saying that no other human could deprive you of them), to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The Civil War ain't called "the last battle of the American Revolution" by many historians for nothing.
And the march of our ideals goes on, even as African-American rights were denied after Reconstruction collapsed in 1877, but women gained the right to vote, blacks eventually gained the ability to go to the same schools as whites, and now, gays are asking for the same rights as straight folk.
Our ideals will never be matched by reality. But the bitterness, cynicism, divisiveness, and hatred that has characterized our country killed the desire to even fucking TRY. To remember what America stands for -- and it's not Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons and torture chambers around the world, defending the option to torture people, being an international bully, or eroding the sacred rights of our own citizens to criticize the government, speak "truth to power", and be free from unconstitutional monitoring, search-and-seizure, or arrest.
Aren't those guarantees what we fought against English to secure? Aren't the liberties we bragged about during the Cold War the rationale we used when pointing out how unfree the Soviet Union or China were, with secret police, prisons, torture, and government bullying or control of the press? And then we had Abu Graib -- Saddam Hussein's former chamber of horrors -- as well as the CIA having been revealed to be using "rendition" to whisk off people to waterboard and worse in former KGB gulags across Eastern Europe?
What certain people didn't get was that those complaints weren't about being PARTISAN. It was a about fighting a battle for against things that are UN-AMERICAN. And I don't care WHICH side of the fence you stand on -- secret prisons, arrest without due process, and torture are UN-AMERICAN. As are vilifying people who POINT THAT OUT.
As Obama spoke his words, I knew the nightmare was over. Is over. The end credits for the former way of doing things are rolling.
And to those who are still backbiting and jabbing at Obama's win -- it's over. McCain lost. He conceded, and he did so gracefully. It was a fair fight, and the people have overwhelming spoken -- it was a fair fight but not a close one. Now it's time to get on board, roll our sleeves up, and fix this country. Because for the Republicans had their chance, and they had it for 8 years. The people wanted a change, and it's DONE.
That's why I cried. Both Obama's existence as president and the words he spoke are behind that. In a way, it was like the tanks and troops of liberating army symbolizing that a dark time has ended, that a new day had come, and that this was a true revolution in thinking about what it MEANS to be American. So, yeah, I blubbered like a baby there before I got myself together.
And it wasn't a cliche, even though it might feel like one to a jaded photographer, a cynic from the other side, or somebody who's "just not a hugger." We weren't crying for just "our side" or blue states, or for bleeding heart liberals alone. It was for our idea of country, of a country that doesn't HAVE to talk about sides, that doesn't HAVE to talk about the colors of state, just like suddenly, for an American president, the color of one's skin doesn't matter, either. Or the fact that one's first name is "Obama" or the middle name "Hussein." That's the kind of country I've always wanted -- and now, we have a chance to get it.
So cynics can point out that things are going to be tough for Obama, that he has had a lot of expectations placed upon him, that he might not deliver.
Duh? Yeah, we know. But the point of "hope" is that you believe, anyway. That's the point. Like "faith" entails a belief in a God one cannot see, or that "trust" requires belief in someone who could very well betray you. That's HOW IT WORKS.
So, like all Americans, it's time to hope Obama walks the walk as good as he talked the talk. Don't we ALL hope for that? Here's hoping that the next 4 years will be better than the previous ones, and that Obama's indisputable ability to inspire can enable and define the kind of effective leadership that this country sorely needs.
God bless President Barack Obama and God bless the United States of America!