The newpresident of the United States of America brings the promise of change not just for the United States but for the whole world, too.
I HAVE a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King on Aug 28, 1963.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” – US President-elect Barack Obama’s first public words after winning the election on Nov 4, 2008.
ON Dec 1, 1955, six years before US President-elect Barack Obama was born, a black American woman, Rosa Parks, refused to get up and give her seat on a bus to a white as required under laws then in Montgomery, Alabama.
The man reported to the police, Parks was arrested and later became a symbol for millions of blacks who were systematically discriminated against despite the end of slavery almost a 100 years before that.
US civil rights activist Martin Luther King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, lasting 385 days, when blacks, the major users of buses, took other transport. King’s house was bombed and he was arrested during the campaign, which ended with a United States District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on Montgomery public buses.
That energised the black civil rights movement, with King playing a prominent role. In August 1963, two years after Barack Obama was born, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech (extract above), to 250,000 people in Washington, considered one of the most stirring in history and a defining moment in the US civil rights movement.
Less than a year later, in June 1964, partly because of the work done by King and others, the Civil Rights Act was passed in the US giving blacks equal rights under the law and enabling most of them to vote.
In recognition of his work, King was awarded the Nobel Prize the same year, becoming, at 35, its youngest recipient. Four years later, when Obama was seven, King lay dead, felled by a single bullet to the neck from an assassin.
Forty years later, Obama, gave his victory speech to a cheering, crying crowd of over 250,000 in Chicago, when he became – beating his rival John McCain by a wide margin – the president-elect of the United States.
While he shed tears publicly when his grandmother died just a day before the polls, he was rock-solid composure itself during that speech (excerpt above), even as those around him and his supporters cried tears of joy.
Obama’s victory represents the culmination of a long, painful and perilous road that blacks have taken in America to gain recognition for themselves as a people.
They were forcibly brought from Africa as slaves, put through the most inhumane conditions and finally got their freedom from fiefdom in the 1860s. But they continued to be severely discriminated against and humiliated long after that, earning recognition as full citizens under US law only in 1964.
But despite that, the discrimination continued and although it has reduced tremendously, it is by no means over.
While Obama’s victory is without doubt a defining moment for the history of blacks in the US and an indication of how far they have come over the years, Obama himself was not a black civil rights activist.
His thoughts, his actions, his political behaviour cut across racial lines. He never sought to champion just black causes but included everyone in his agenda. That was what made him a presidential candidate and, eventually, president-elect.
Civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson – who shed tears on Obama’s election victory, and the black who came closest before Obama to the presidency – tried creditably, but failed, to get a Democratic nomination for the 1988 election.
Obama’s book, outlining his thoughts and aptly titled the The Audacity of Hope, sets out his political philosophy, his guts and his, well, audacity, to think that he could one day become US president. Against all the odds he did.
In America, where an estimated 70% to 75% of voters are white, he could not have done it without white support. However exit polls by CNN showed he did not enjoy white majority support – some 55% of whites voted for McCain but that 43% (2% of answers were indeterminate) support he got was large.
Huge support from blacks (95%) and Latinos and others (over 65%) tilted the balance in his favour, enabling him to get about 53% of the popular vote. That is an indication of how much power minorities can muster when they vote in unison, as some of our own politicians found out to their dismay or delight on March 8.
Obama got remarkable support among young voters. The CNN exit poll showed two-thirds of voters under 30 supported him. And, importantly, 54% of white voters in this category were behind him, a clear indication the young are becoming less racist.
Obviously Obama did not win because he was black – he’s half-black, to be accurate. He won because he was by far the best candidate. He endeared himself to all segments of society by his genuine, reasoned yet impassioned plea to the goodness inherent in all of them, seeking always to unite and find common ground.
That he was black was NOT sufficient deterrent for the American public to vote him in as the next president of the United States – and by a wide margin, too. That is really fantastic and represents a situation many thought would never materialise.
A dream come true, a hope fulfilled. A victory against racism, a giant leap for mankind – Obama’s win is all that and more. If there is a lesson, it is to show that the problems of race and repression are indeed surmountable. Yes, change has come.
Never in history has a US president-elect had so much of support outside of the United States. Kenya, where his father came from, claims him as its own; students from his former school in Indonesia celebrated unabashedly; a town called Obama in Japan was delighted he won; and in cities around the world there was elation at his election.
Not just the United States, the world expects much from this man Obama. Destiny will dictate that he will make his mark.