Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing more to be said

Spotted in a shop window in Harlem:

Rosa Parks sat

So that Martin Luther could walk

So that Barack Obama could run

So that our children could fly

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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Our shared destiny

The world changed yesterday - for good.
Barack Obama is not Superman. Poverty will not disappear overnight. Peace will not reign across the world by Christmas. And prejudice will continue to stalk our communities.
But we now have hope, hope that we can all make the world a better place. We can now believe that dreams do come true, and that change is possible.
All we have to do is make it happen.

President-elect Obama's words are much more eloquent than mine.
His acceptance speech last night was masterful...

...And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope...

Yes we can.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Change the world

With only 48 hours until the polls open at 7am on Tuesday morning the well oiled machine that is Pennsylvania for Change has sprung into action.
Our exhausted field officers, Ken, Katie and Ryan have organised teams of volunteers to knock on the door of every Obama supporter in Northampton County and remind them to get out to vote.
Door hangers exhorting voters to make their mark on November 4th are being hung on every front door, just in case someone, somewhere, has forgotten that Tuesday is decision day.
Supporters drop by with boxes of bran muffins and cheese crackers. Phones ring off the hook, literature piles up alongside Google maps of canvassing routes and Obama stickers and in a few hours time Caroline Kennedy, daughter of that most iconic of Presidents, Jack Kennedy will drop by to wish everyone good luck.
An air of quiet determination pervades the office. The polls still predict an Obama win in Pennsylvania, with the margin of victory ranging from seven to ten per cent, but nothing is being taken for granted.
The word victory doesn’t pass anyone’s lips. Memories of the 2000 election and those hanging chads that robbed Al Gore of victory are still too fresh in most Democrats’ minds.
“We are not going to let up until the polls close at 8pm, and if the campaign needs us, we will hit the phones out west, their polls don’t close until 11 pm our time” Ken tells us.
We all nod in agreement. We are here to do what we are told - all of us - from Rob, who works part time in a Bethlehem bookstore to Martha, a film technician from downtown New York.
Martha’s job is to co-ordinate the out of state volunteers. “Where do you think I should put this guy?” she asks. “He has a car, will work right through to election day and is happy to do anything.”
He ends up in the same area as me. I am in the Hellertown area that has some nine thousand voters. It is a socially mixed community, just like Edinburgh Pentlands where I cut my political teeth – blue collar workers in town and very large, very beautiful homes in the countryside surrounding it.
But just as the Labour Party in 1997 successfully targeted all voters, from hard-core supporters to disillusioned Tories, so Obama’s campaign has broad based appeal.
Last Tuesday morning I was lucky enough to hear him make his solemn promise to unite America at a rally in Chester, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
It was one of the wet, wet days, when the rain and wind chill you to the bone, but the thousands of people who stood cheerfully in line for two hours shrugged off the weather.
Young black teenagers in hoodies chatted, probably for the first time in their lives to middle-aged, middle class white women in North Face jackets, as together, we waited to hear the man who promises to change this country for good.
It was worth risking pneumonia.
He stood before us, bare-headed in the rain, his deep, rich voice resonating across the sports field as he wove his compelling story for change.
He ended with this call to action: “if you will stand with me, and fight with me, and give me your vote, then I promise you this – we will not just win Pennsylvania, we will not just win this election, but together, we will change this country and we will change the world.”
Senator John McCain was due to speak the same morning in Pennsylvania, but cancelled because of the rain. Think about it, who would you vote for?