Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Symbols count

I have just finished watching the roll call at the DNC and the choreography of Illinois "passing" when it was their turn to vote, then New Mexico "yielding" their votes to Illinois, and then when it bounced back to Illinois they, in turn, yielded to New York (the state that follows, alphabetically, to New Mexico) at which point, the New York delegation, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, took the stage and asked the convention leadership to break with procedure, to cease the roll call and declare by acclimation that Senator Barack Obama would be the unanimous candidate representing the Democratic Party in the 2008 Presidential election.

And Nancy Pelosi took the stage to ask for a motion, and a second, and a vote, which I admit was actually not a "real" vote since Pelosi glossed over the "nay" section after an ear-splitting round of "Ayes!" to announce that Barack Obama would, indeed, be the presidential candidate.

And I found myself once again in tears, actually openly crying. Because, as I told "Southern Man" (who is here watching the DNC with me) I just never thought this day would come. I never thought that I'd see a non-white candidate, an African American candidate, win the nomination for president of a major party. Actually, I always assumed that if I were alive to see this day, it would be the Republican party who would be nominating someone like Colin Powell or Clarence Thomas. I didn't think it would be the Democratic party, my party, who would nominate someone whose platforms and values I actually respect and believe in.

And I was crying because this picture above--this could be our first family.

[Right now MSNBC is interviewing John Lewis, a major figure in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and he's talking about the monumental nature of this moment and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in Obama's candidacy]

I know that symbols can be too easily deconstructed and dismissed. I make my bread and butter through tearing apart language and images in literary texts. My training in the academy has been to be suspicious and cynical of easy symbols and overly sentimental narratives.

And yet here I am crying at the realization that our nation has nominated an African American man to be the presidential nominee and that WE COULD HAVE OUR FIRST NON-WHITE, AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESIDENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.

And that symbolism is powerful. It sends a message of progress. It tells me that while we aren't moving as fast or as far as I would personally like, we are moving ahead. We are trying to do things better. And it sends a message to a lot of others that our idea of who counts as a leader, who counts as president of one of the most powerful nations on this planet--that this face and the symbolism of electing, specifically, an African American man--that this is powerful. This is history. This is hope.

Over a year ago I spent a weekend reading through the websites of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama trying to decide which candidate I wanted to support in order to take back the White House and end 8 years of Republican mis-leadership. I wanted to put my vote and my faith behind a candidate I truly believed in. I chose Barack Obama in many ways because his narrative was one that resonated with me--his story, the story of race in America, was one that I understood all too well. And the symbolism of Barack Obama and his family is inspiring--of Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, but also of his grandmother, his sister, and his nieces and nephews and siblings and uncles and aunts in the U.S. and around the world: a vision of mixed race that isn't just part of America but part of a new global order. And this symbolism is so powerful. This symbolism gives me hope that this country, which I have often had a cynical and pessimistic attitude towards, and the Democratic party, which I have often lamented over the lack of leadership, that at this very moment I feel proud. Proud of my party. Proud of my country. And giddy and anxious over the possibility that THIS could be the picture of our next first family:

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