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Archive for November, 2008

Tuesday, election day for us in the USA, I was barely able to get productive work accomplished. It wasn’t just a matter of being concerned that “my” candidate for President might lose. It was a mixture of many things, including:

  • the sense that our country stands at a unique moment – we either embrace the serious challenges facing us, or fall farther behind other countries who already are assuming a leadership position in the world relative to matters such as universal health care, a rational national energy policy, and an active commitment to economic, cultural, and social justice for all its citizens;
  • the sense that this long election campaign so much needed to end, for all our sakes, coupled by amazement at the apparently limitless energy of all four of the major national candidates, right until the final hour;
  • indescribable amazement at the fact that someone who was a state senator a mere four years ago appeared about to win the Presidency, someone whose intelligence, emotional balance, and capacity to organize his campaign in a manner never before seen has been commented upon by virtually everyone who wasn’t actually running against him (and at times even by them).
  • amazement every time I saw the Obama family on a public stage; when I was a child, and even a young adult, this family could simply not have been in such a position, running for a national office. Could we really have come this far?

And now that it’s all over, a new surprise: it seems that virtually everyone is celebrating. It appears nearly universal – that we recognize that as a nation we have turned a corner. This is a national Affirmative Action moment.

I say that because I can see the effect Obama’s election is already having on African Americans – there is an apparent sense of personal validation. THIS, for those who just don’t get it, is why we need people of all “flavors” in leadership positions. “Equal” mean equal access, and not just in theory. In actuality. Equality simply needs to be a visible reality, so that our children can see it. Now, in a sense that has never before been true, for African Americans, it is.

BUT…the caution: We still have a long way to go. The trans-generational effects of slavery, and of Jim Crow racism, are with us still, and will be for quite a while yet. The solution isn’t to make black people white, but to make our society brown – a mixture, at all levels. It simply has to be acceptable to appear, sound, and (even!) act black, at all levels. I can say this, as a Caucasian: too many white people simply don’t yet get this. And it isn’t just true for black people – tolerance for diversity remains one of our most central social challenges.

Now….to stay on topic – does any rational person doubt that social inequality has mental health consequences? It isn’t enough to have “equal access”. Only equal achievement will do the trick, and we have yet to achieve this, on so many fronts.

Social intolerance, and inequality of achievement affects everyone. What hurts one hurts us all. We cannot fail to care about our neighbors. We may well disagree about how to turn our caring into social policy, but about the goal there cannot rationally be disagreement. When one of us is injured by life, by social circumstance, by accident of birth, we all are injured.

This is a rare and shining moment we are having this week. We are not likely to pass this way again any time soon. I savor this moment, and seek to draw energy from it. There is a great deal of work to be done, by us all.

We really do need all hands on deck. I’d like to think that this week, “the crew” increased very meaningfully. I’m grateful to Obama, for who he is and what he has done, but I’m probably more grateful to my fellow citizens. As he said, we did this. It is our moment more than anything else – and no ones more than those folks who voted for the other candidate but still feel good about this moment. The last time we came together like this – and world drew close to us – we had just suffered a national terrorist attack. This time feels very much better, and will surely have more far-reaching consequences.

As we look at the challenges the whole world faces, in this and the next generation, we all need to believe “Yes, we can”. Then, we need to act on our belief.

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