Washington, DC erupted after the election as did cities all across America. On U Street, shortly after 11pm Eastern Time when Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States, the sense of jubilation and of a weight being lifted off our shoulders was immense. There were screams of joy and relief, honking car horns, beating drums, clanging bells, people hanging out of cars and yes, many an American flag were waved with pride.
People were high-fiving total strangers, in joyous recognition of a common goal and now: a common achievement. Some shouted “Yes We Can” and others responded “Yes We Did.” We were all a part of it whether we were partaking in it directly or watching and smiling from our living rooms. America made it happen. We took our country back.
Those that sought to divide us against each other had failed. People in red states, blue states, rural areas and cities, Democrats who had supported Hillary Clinton, moderate Independents AND concerned Republicans all came together and voted for Barack Obama. We did not let ourselves slide back in fear, insularity and rigid ideology. American voters stepped forward and said we need change — we need to embrace the future and rise to its challenges.
It was a vote for pragmatism, for thoughtful leadership that sharply analyzes problems and comes to solutions, not out of ideology but from an eye for results and fairness. Instead of ignoring big problems like health care, education, global warming and the challenge of restoring America’s global image, we would tackle these problems and ask people to make the sacrifices necessary to deal with them. We’d ask those who’ve done well to chip in a little more, the young to commit themselves to serving the community and we’d make sure we took better care of those who’d served in our military.
Leading the charge were young people, who voted to elect Senator Obama by a more than 2 to 1 margin (66-32%). It was these young people who were out in the streets in America’s cities. Along with the young were many of the country’s minorities that voted for Obama in decisive numbers: African Americans (95%), Jewish Americans (78%), LGBT Americans (70%), Hispanic Americans (67%) and Asian Americans (62%). These Americans shared an obvious sense of identity with Mr. Obama, the first non-white to be elected president, and his victory made them feel a more integral part of the American family. They shared a common desire with young voters for something new and fresh in American life.
Many of Obama’s young supporters were born in rural or suburban towns but now work and live in urban areas. They rely on public transit and save money from not having a car. Mostly college educated, more women than men and many of them are gay, they sent each other text messages and went into the streets last night to be together with one another, to feel the power of their community.
America’s cities have come alive over the past decade. At times, there has been tension, as neighborhoods gentrify and prices rise. But more and more, long-term minority residents and new white residents have gotten along quite well. Crime has dropped and they have lived in mixed neighborhoods, sharing the same public spaces and developing friendships and relationships.
The suburbs near our major cities are changing too. Families are growing in which both parents came of age with the Internet, immigrants from Asia and Latin America have grown in number and an African-American middle class has prospered. Acceptance of gays is on the rise, and hatred masquerading as religion is being called out. This is the face of the new America and the America of tomorrow.
In a sense, the cultural power of urban America is penetrating deeper and deeper into the rest of the country, as we all read the same news sources online and connect with friends on Facebook that live anywhere. People listen to country music in the city and there are some gay bars in small towns. That sense of distance and separation just is not as strong as it once was. The America of 2000, divided into red and blue, that President-elect Obama said in 2004 never really existed anyway, is fading beyond recognition.
Our families, our friends, our fellow citizens, no matter where they may live, many of them share the same basic values and goals we do. That’s why millions of people stood in line for hours to vote. That’s what we celebrated together as the election returns came in. That’s how we’ll build the America we choose to build together.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” The scales tipped more than many of us can realize this week. There will be ups and downs and big setbacks to be sure, but we got a strong reminder of the trajectory of history and the country has given all of its political leaders a powerful opportunity to move it forward.
Together we have great confidence in the man we have chosen to lead us forward. Let that important work begin.