The arc of history…

Hassan and I spent most of the past few days in Philadelphia volunteering for Barack.  Philly was still on a high from the World Series, which seemed to roll seamlessly into the election.  I spent a day doing phone banking in North Philly, where Puerto Ricans were very enthusiastic about O.  Then we spent a couple days canvassing in South Philly, where there were some green McCain-Palin signs mixed in with the Obamamania.  But that’s not too surprising since we were only a few blocks away from Geno’s Steaks, home of the famous Philadelphia cheesesteak and the nearly as famous “this-is-America-When-ordering-speak-in-English” sign.  But we still met quite a few Obama enthusiasts, including one woman who explained to us that some of her neighbors were not voting for Obama “because the Irish are racist.” (No, the irony was not self-conscious.) Another gentleman claimed personal responsibility for turning his entire block into Obama supporters, except for one McCainite, “but we got him isolated.”

In the cab on the way back to the train station, we passed through four or five different neighborhoods.  We saw fellow canvassers every few blocks, and more than half the houses had Obama knockers hanging from the door knobs.  It came as no surprise that the Obama campaign managed to contact half of the entire state’s electorate.  It felt good to play some small part in it all.

Hassan and I have been following the election pretty, well, obsessively, so once PA and Ohio had been called we knew it was over.  But it didn’t really sink in until the networks called it at 11pm and MSNBC cut to shots of cheers and tears in Chicago and all around the world, just as we heard the sound of thumping and cheering and honking outside.  “We are family” was playing on my laptop, and the tears came fast and steady.

It’s been a hard eight years for progressives. More than once, it felt like even the idea of “progress” was elusive and illosory.  Even today, Obama’s victory was bittersweet, as 52% of Californians voted to ban gay people from having the right to marry.  This is a particularly crushing loss, since its impact will be real and immediate for thousands of gay couples. 

But I’m heartened by the fact that voters under 30 had a different opinion: nearly two-thirds voted for human rights for gay people. There’s a lot of work to be done, but against the backdrop of Obama’s victory, I feel hope for the possibilities, and the strength to strive for them.

I keep thinking about MLK’s words, that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.  Implicit in his words is that sometimes the arc is so long it’s hard to see it. But today I feel like I can just barely make it out, turning upward toward the sky.  But King captures it all so much better:

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil-rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. And as we continue our charted course, we may gain consolation in the words so nobly left by that great black bard who was also a great freedom fighter of yesterday, James Weldon Johnson:

  Stony the road we trod,
  Bitter the chastening rod
  Felt in the days
  When hope unborn had died.

  Yet with a steady beat,
  Have not our weary feet
  Come to the place
  For which our fathers sighed?

  We have come over the way

  That with tears hath been watered.
  We have come treading our paths
  Through the blood of the slaughtered,

  Out from the gloomy past,
  Till now we stand at last

  Where the bright gleam
  Of our bright star is cast.

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome, we have overcome, deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”

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