Friday, November 7, 2008
One nation, indivisible
In all the news coverage following the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, one small blip involved Oprah Winfrey talking on her show about the middle-aged white man she had been leaning on, literally crying on his shoulder, during the celebratory rally in Grant Park, Chicago. Everyone called her, asking, “Who was that man?” And she confessed she didn’t know who he was, that he was simply Mr. Man. But of course, because she is Oprah, Mr. Man was soon identified as Sam Perry, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Obama campaign volunteer, and he appeared on her show.
It’s such a small thing, Oprah leaning on the shoulder of an unknown man while she cries listening to President Obama’s speech, but the more I think about it, the more it encapsulates what I saw in this campaign.
We won this together. We won, not just with friends and family we cajoled, but with complete strangers across the country. We won with Oprah, media mogul and superstar, and with my friend Mimi who had never volunteered for a campaign before. We won with Shaddai, a lawyer from Brooklyn, and with Joe, the union dry-wall finisher, who stood outside our polling site with me all day. We won with Chung, the woman my mother’s age who made phone calls to Korean-American voters for hours, and if you are not impressed, it’s because you don’t know what it takes for a Korean person to call strangers. We won with the stream of men and women who came into Childs Elementary School in South Philly to vote, African-American mainly but also white and Vietnamese-American and Chinese-American. I had never seen any of them before in my life and will probably never see any of them again. But like Oprah, we felt a connection to each other that moved us to hug each other, cry together, and celebrate together. Even three days after the election, as I walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood, I smile at strangers and they, miraculously, smile back.
Obama didn’t just declare that we are one nation, we are one people. He made us feel it and know it in our hearts as well as our minds. I thought I had always loved my country and the ideals on which it was founded, but now I know, this is love.
"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other."