Sunday, November 9, 2008

A knockout

Fifteen-year-old Mike Horton Jr is in no doubt about the importance of Barack Obama’s victory.
As we packed away the campaign leftovers – thousands of unused leaflets, boxes of marker pens and a bag of badges declaring “Catholics for Obama” - he turned to me and said: “You know, if Barack hadn’t knocked out McCain, if we had lost on Tuesday, we would have lost everything, everything.”
He then went on to set out a complicated boxing metaphor, involving, I think, Larry Holmes, Gerry Cooney and a knockout in round thirteen. Holmes won, so I got the gist of what he was trying to say.
Winning on points was never going to be enough for Obama’s supporters, we had to win decisively, and on Tuesday night, at around 11.00 pm, only three short hours after the polls had closed in Pennsylvania, we got the knockout punch we wanted.
“ Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States of America,” announced MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, his voice shaking with emotion.
Olbermann, a former award-winning sports presenter, hosts Countdown, a nightly current affairs programme on a major cable news channel.
He loves Barack, hates the Republican Party, Fox News and hypocrites, and revels in his partisanship. I love him.
So does young Mike, but not as much as he loves Barack Obama. While most fifteen-year-olds spend their evenings and weekends instant messaging their friends, Mike has spent his free time working for an Obama victory.
Nine months ago he walked into the newly opened Obama campaign office in Bethlehem’s Main Street and signed up as a volunteer.
“Minorities have been overlooked in this country for too long,” he explained as we took down a poster bearing the legend “Hope”.
“We need change in health and education. I think the bad things that people do are just a symptom of how bad their lives are. Barack will change that.”
Mike’s high expectations are shared by millions of people across the USA, many of whom voted for the first time in this election.
In the 2004 Presidential election only 12 percent of the students at Bethlehem’s Lehigh University bothered to vote. This time 85 per cent voted.
Obama’s message of hope also mobilised African-American voters in a way never seen before. He won 95% of the black vote, compared to just 4% for Mr McCain.
And experts say his appeal to women – from all backgrounds - was one of the most important factors in his victory.
In his masterful speech early on Wednesday morning, President-elect Obama tried to dampen down the people’s expectations.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term…
There will be setbacks and false starts…and we know that government can't solve every problem.”
And with the news that unemployment has hit a 14 year high and that American’s iconic brand General Motors has posted a $2.5 BILLION loss in the last quarter, the road ahead will be long, and hard.
But for Mike, the future has never looked brighter.
He is the youngest of seven children, his mother is a single parent, and like many young men, he sometimes struggles to keep his cool.
But he has a dream.
“I want to go to Harvard Law School, then set up a non-profit, for kids like me. Somewhere they can get support, and I can help them succeed.”
Last week his dream was just that, a dream.
Today as Barack Obama, an African American man, the son of a single parent, gets ready to move into the White House, Mike knows his dream will come true.

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