When President Obama was elected to his first term in 2008, I was deeply aware that I was watching history in the making. I was grateful to be a part of it, and eager to see what he would accomplish. Watching the election results this week, I was again aware of history unfolding, but this time instead of being overwhelmed I was simply relieved. As many writers have said, this victory wasn’t just Obama’s: it was a victory for an inclusive vision of America.
This was an election in which we the people said that women will not be treated as vessels with no voice, disrespected by those in control of our laws. On the contrary, our voices will shape this nation: a record 20 women were elected to the Senate. This was an election in which, after much attempted trickery around voter ID laws, minorities stood in long lines to make sure their votes counted—and their votes really counted. And this was an election in which we moved gay rights forward, as Maine, Maryland, and Washington approved gay marriage and Wisconsin elected the first openly gay senator—Tammy Baldwin, also the state’s first female senator. Oh, this election. It’s got me all verclemt.
That surprised me a bit—the way this victory felt more like a sigh of relief deep in my bones than a rallying cry. Because it is time, you know. As a friend of mine once said, “There’s a five foot brick wall and a mile and a half ahead. We’d better get moving.” This friend didn’t know he was giving me a metaphor for life—he was speaking literally—but damn, he was right. Because again and again that brick wall crops up, and again and again that road seems to gain an extra mile. So we better get moving, and I’d like to give us a good old-fashioned whoop to get this party started. But not today.
Today, I want to honor where we are.
It is the President who helped me understand the importance of that, in this video that has “gone viral,” as the cool kids say:
Mary Elizabeth Williams summed up how I feel about this video: “We have been living of late in cynical times. That cynicism and that mistrust and that culture of snark weren’t wiped out on election night, and they weren’t blown away in a hurricane. But after so much that’s happened in just the past few days, and with so many unfathomable struggles yet to come, a whole lot of us need to believe we’re in the hands of a guy who can feel something. Who can speak, right now, about what he’s learned of ‘the hopes and aspirations and grit and resilience’ of people. And who can tell us all, with tears in his eyes, ‘I’m really proud of you.’”
What President Obama does in this video is honor ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to move a vision forward. That is what it takes to create change; that is what it has always taken. There is much change to come—now is the time to ensure that our civil rights are never again threatened, to finish what we started in the 1960s. But first, it is time to take a deep breath, full of gratitude and humility.
Because that, my friends, is the best way forward.