Thursday, November 06, 2008

We'll return to our regular programming after this brief political message ...

I'm just back from my trip to help Barack Obama carry Ohio (which he did, in case you didn't see the news), and I wanted to very briefly share a few thoughts on the experience.

Four of my friends and I traveled from the electorally secure city of Chicago to Cleveland, a toss-up territory on the shores of lake Erie. There we met our good friend Katy, who had been helping to organize the campaign in the area for five weeks. A rough-around-the-edges group of guys dubbed the Chicago Boys and the Chicago Crew, we were welcomed enthusiastically and immediately put to work out in the neighborhoods.

It began with a methodical canvassing of suburban Parma to tip the minds of those who hadn't yet decided and to motivate those who had. It ended, in the last few hours before the polls closed, with a mad dash through the streets of an impoverished area of Cleveland to make sure that everyone there had exercised their right to vote.

There are many stories to tell (and I'll gladly share them with anyone who asks me over the next days, weeks, months and years), but no amount of words can adequately capture the whole experience. Most memorable was that shared moment as the large group of local volunteers and staff nervously watched the returns around TVs and computer screens on Tuesday night. First came the news that Pennsylvania had gone to Obama, and shortly after that the giddy announcement that Ohio was also projected in our column. 

As more states were called with the closing of polls in the Midwest, we all began to realize what we had accomplished. I'll never forget the tear-streaked faces mixed in among the smiles as Obama secured the needed 270 electoral votes. Handshakes, hugs and kisses abounded as a tremendous wave of emotion washed over all of us in that office -- a scene that I'm sure was played out in countless places across the nation. 

There was a tinge of sadness that we Chicago Six couldn't be home for the big celebration in Grant Park, but it was more than compensated for with the sheer joy of watching Obama's acceptance speech at a local bar surrounded by a group of committed community organizers (and yes, after much serious dismissing of that occupation at the Republican Convention, there was some vindication here). 

Although Obama's victory is a very big, progressive step for our country and the world, it is in many ways just the first foot forward on our long and very challenging journey together. Amid the many positive memories we bring back with us from Ohio, there are also the bracing ones of naked racism discovered in some homes whose doors were opened to us. It is a reminder that there are still minds stuck in the rut of antiquated ideas, and we need to reach out and pull them into the future.

That said, this election proves that most Americans are tired of the empty ideological debates and the childish name calling. They're sick of the politics of a past where race and religion were used to divide and distract us from the tasks at hand. Beyond its already well-documented historical significance, Obama's victory is the triumph of a politics of pragmatism. We have much to do, and we can no longer afford to shunt those responsibilities onto future generations.

Individually, we need to do the hard work of organizing the communities where we live. Members of a thriving democracy don't wash their hands of their responsibilities after visiting the voting booth every four years. They dirty those hands digging in to make sure that the people we've elected are keeping the promises made to uphold the constitution and protect the public interests. Let's use this moment to come together as a nation to guarantee that this truly is the fulfilment of that long-sought and hard-fought dream of a society where we're all judged based on the content of our character.
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