Monday, December 1, 2008

Yes we are

I watched the presidential election from Montreal, with people I have been friends with for about 15 years. Ironically, these were the friends I was staying with on Sept. 11, 2001. I had intended to be in Montreal for two days and, like most people who were travelling at that time, wound up being there for a week. As we watched the returns and became more and more certain (and joyful) that Obama was winning, I couldn’t help but compare the two days and nights. Sept. 11, 2001 was also near the beginning of President Bush’s first term. Immediately civil liberties and dissent were quelled. The expression, “Truth is the first casualty of war” came true almost as the towers came down.

I didn’t believe that Obama was really going to be the next president until McCain (graciously for a change) conceded, and I found myself breathing full deep breaths. Perhaps I thought, I had not taken a full breath since Bush was selected (not elected: let’s never use that word to describe his presidential triumph.)

At the conclusion of the McCain speech, horns started honking and people were shouting in the streets. I talked to my partner in NYC and could hardly hear her for the joyful shouting and screaming. All over the world, people were ecstatic.

And it hasn’t worn off. I am now back in Oakland and at every public intersection—subway stations, sidewalks, stoplights, strangers are smiling at each other. “How are you?” “Beautiful day.” “Take care.” All small talk, nothing too intense, but it feels different. It feels like we like each other and we are happy to live together in this very diverse city. And I catch a glimpse of a “commons-based society” in which people believe in the basic goodness of each other, and in which the profound sins of racism and poverty are being forgiven even as the lessons from them are being learned so as not to be repeated. A feeling of well-being pervades the streets even as the economy tanks, which is an amazing juxtaposition.

A friend says we must turn “Yes we can” into “Yes we will.” But in many important ways we are already saying, “Yes we are.”

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