06 November 2008

Change... can it be?

Obama said "YES WE CAN" and we did... Admittedly, I was a skeptic up until the last moment of truth on November 4th... as much as I wanted to dive in to the Obama-mania of the past year, I resisted the urge because I was scared. I feared for his life and his family. I feared for the ways in which his success would be spun (and is spun) as the end of racism. I feared that he would be a symbol of post-racial Blackness. I feared that he would not be able to live up to all the hopes/dreams/expectations we placed on him. I feared that he would have to give up too much to win the election. I feared that Black people would be left out. And my greatest fear - that poor working class Black people would be forgotten. Twelve years in Florida and distrust of an extremely flawed voting system enhanced my cynicism.

I had many fears and some of these fears remain in spite of my feelings of excitement and joy over this victory, our victory. The victory of so many people who came before us. People whose names are forgotten - our ancestors who fought and resisted slavery and colonization. Black men and women who refused to be treated as second-class citizens, who struggled for civil rights (along with white allies and other coalitions of people of color and other marginalized groups). But (as many voices have been saying) this victory cannot be seen as the final victory.

The struggle is not over. Social justice has yet to be realized. In the United States, 2.3 million people are locked up in an unjust prison system. Their rights are taken away, yet their bodies and labor are owned by the state. The United States is engaged in two unjust wars. Poor working class people around the country do not have equal access to resources and opportunities. Many people are struggling to get by. Poor communities and communities of color are heavily policed and criminalized. LGBTQ people and communities are also criminalized and in the struggle for civil rights. (Thinking especially about the hate crimes forgotten, with little to no media coverage, endured by lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer people especially of color, remember Sakia Gunn; thinking about the bans on same sex marriage across the country, remember California and Florida in this election - voting for change on the one hand and against rights on the other.)

Women of color, LGBTQ people, marginalized groups, communities of color, immigrant communities, and the working poor, working class, are too often pitted against each other. We are encouraged to forget/dismiss our common differences, to fight over the scraps and crumbs left over, to not see our similar struggles. And we forget that these divisions are not set in stone, often times we are ALL these, MANY of these, living in multiple identities, fitting in/to many of these so-called categories, boxes built for division, created to keep us separated, fighting (the divide and rule paradigm still at work).

BUT something happened on November 4th, not just in the United States, but around the world... I felt it as the election results poured in... I felt it when the Obama family walked out on that stage... I felt it during his speech... I felt it as I saw images of people around the world in celebration and in hope of all that is possible... I still feel it as I walk around the streets of New York in post-election bliss, the smiles, the tears of joy, the heads held high, the energy and spirit of this moment... (especially for people of color, especially for people who voted for the first time, especially for people who worked so hard on the Obama campaign and voter registration).

And so, I am full of HOPE and ready for CHANGE. "Yes, we can!"

As I resonate upon these hopes of Election '08, I feel like a believer now, I feel like anything is possible (at least for this moment, at least in the now). I feel such relief that so many people in the United States (born citizens and naturalized citizens who may locate home outside the U.S. but live in the U.S.) participated in the electoral process and made a collective voice heard - a voice that said, we are tired of the present regime.

As a migrant and newly naturalized citizen, this was my first time voting in the United States, and I am happy to say I voted for Obama... even as I critique U.S. empire and imperialism and see the hypocrisy in the so-called democracy of the United States' two party system and mystifying electoral college. I am over joyed that he won, and in spite of all my doubts and fears, I believe.

"We inhabit histories even if we do not understand or know them" -Angela Davis

I was fortunate to hear Professor Davis speak last week (Oct 30th) here in New York... and to be blessed/inspired/lifted by her words of wisdom (her voice of radical change). (Her talk focused on a range of issues - the election, race, gender, civil rights, citizenship, the prison industrial complex, democracy, abolition, and more.) She reminded us that no matter how much the election discourse evaded the question of race (and public discourse generally), histories are always a part of us; she said "they inhabit us." And we cannot disregard how much race has shaped histories in the present. So even as we celebrate Obama's win and the apparent defeat of racial barriers, we must remember there is much work to do.

Professor Davis said that we must shift our focus from the individual to the group, that we must sustain the energy from this election and hold our leaders accountable - push for the change we want/need. Let us not forget that the struggle for social justice and an equal society and world remains. She said, "Don't give up our collective agency to our leaders. Rid ourselves of the Messiah complex." In other words, we must remain active, participate, and BE IN this movement. And we cannot forget the problem of colorblindness & gender blindness - because we do not live in a world that is gender or color blind. She ended her talk with the refrain, "Radical Solutions are needed" and that we must say no to racism, say no to sexism, say no to wars, say no to injustice...

These are the ideas I focus on as we celebrate Obama's win (as our victory, but not the final victory) as the beginning of a movement for real change, a push for radical change, as the start we need to both imagine and create a radically different, socially just, equal, and better world.

with hope that this whisper of revolution transforms into a storm,


Kevin said...

Well...I really don't know what to say. I totally agree with you. I saw the event as a pre-cursor to the beginning of a spiritual/soulful transformation within America. The cloud of fear that America was under for eight long years began to descend, however, I think that we have to realize, through the tears of joy, celebrations, meditations, etc., that THIS is just a beginning. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, Change won't come in one day. America was/is built on race and capitalism which has helped to breed greed and separatism. As you stated, institutions are still unfair and unjust. The election served as a compass to point us in the right direction, now it is up to EVERYONE to go that way.

Solangé said...

Change....can it be? I believe it can. Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Obama, Nelson Mandela are all leaders that inspire us that we can, that the world can be a better place..Even though I don't consider myself to be a radical or activist and I don't live in the USA but on a thiny little peaceful island in the Caribbean, your article reflects my thoughts and feelings about this topic / "revolutionary" event of mister Barack Obama having the audacity to run for president and actually being elected president of the USA. Today, June 20th 2011, looking back, I can fairly say that(President) Obama over the years has been and still is a great inspiration for many around the world, including myself. And you Angelique are great with giving meaning to words and words to meaning, Thanks soulsis!