A New Day
The Democratic president-elect's victory against Republican Senator John McCain is being called "a day shimmering with history" by The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune says Tuesday, November 4 was a time to marvel at a "once inconceivable moment."
A supporter from the beginning, Oprah says President-elect Obama's election marks a new day for America. "May I just say, for those of you who have been loyal viewers who voted differently than I—and 52 percent of the country—did I respect your choice and understand how you might be feeling somewhat disappointed today," she says. "So I do understand. But my deepest hope is that in the days and weeks ahead, we will all come together with the same renewed spirit that we took to the polls, because we need each other now more than ever."
Throughout the past nearly two years of campaigning, Oprah says she vowed not to use her show as a platform. "So I kept my mouth shut and supported Barack Obama as a private citizen," she says. "Today, though, the election is over—and I'm unleashed!"
Although she arrived with Gayle and Stedman, Oprah says she ended up crying on someone else's shoulder. "Friends called me around the country and said, 'Who was with you?' I said, 'I don't know him, but he was very nice to me,'" Oprah says. "At one point I was just sobbing on his shoulder, mascara everywhere."
"Thank you, Mr. Man, for letting me cry on your shoulder."
Photo: Associated Press/Morry Gash
Oprah says for her, that was the highlight of the night. "That was my favorite moment because he is a unifier," Oprah says. "He will unify and bring [this] country together. Can't wait for all the possibilities."
U.S. Rep. Lewis is an American hero who's had a front-row seat to history, marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. He also just won re-election for his 12th congressional term.
Election night was one of the most moving moments of his life, U.S. Rep. Lewis says. "I had what I call an out-of-body experience. I jumped so high, I started shouting, I was at Ebenezer Church and I just embarrassed myself. I was just overcome," he says. "It reminded me of all of the struggle, all of the pain and suffering. And to see this day come, it was just too much."
The long lines to vote on Election Day reminded U.S. Rep. Lewis of the first time South Africans got to vote and elected Nelson Mandela president. U.S. Rep. Lewis says he also thought about Dr. King. "The days that we marched on Washington in 1963. The time that we marched in Selma for the right to vote. When we stood in those immovable lines that people had to pass a so-called literacy test," he says. "And there were hundreds and thousands of black Americans in the heart of the Deep South never had an opportunity to register and to vote."
A longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Lewis publicly shifted his support to President-elect Obama midway through the campaign. "It was very difficult for me," he says. "But I had what I called an 'executive session' with myself, and I saw the Barack Obama campaign as a movement. It was very similar to the civil rights movement, and I said I wanted to be on the right side of history, and that's why I made that change."
The 2008 presidential campaign wasn't just a political movement—U.S. Rep. Lewis says it was also spiritual. "It was something about this man,"he says. "I felt that Barack Obama had been tracked down by the spirit of history and was aligning himself to be used for the common good."
Watching President-elect Obama's speech, David says he was reminded of Dr. King's last speech in Memphis before his assassination. In that speech, Dr. King spoke of the Promised Land but said he might not reach it with his followers. "And Barack Obama, this young man, comes along and calls Martin Luther King the Moses of our time. And now this is the Joshua generation that he's heading up," David says. "Just as it was with King and John Lewis and others who marched, and they were so young and changed the nation, now along comes a new generation, a fresh generation that offers new hope."
As evidence of generational change, David points to election results among young voters. "Four years ago the Democrats won the young vote—that is, between 18 and 29—they won it by about 9 percent," he says. "Yesterday the Democrats, Barack Obama, won the youth vote by 32 percent."
David says President-elect Obama's victory is truly a step forward for our entire nation. Growing up in the '60s in North Carolina, David says he witnessed firsthand the positive effects the civil rights era had on culture. "What I learned then is something that Lincoln said way back earlier: That when one group advances in this country, we all advance," he says. "I can't tell you how much of a debt we in the South owe to John Lewis and Martin Luther King and others who opened our eyes and really lifted whites as much as blacks. ... When the walls came down between the races in the South, the walls came down between the South and the rest of the country. Today the South is much better off than it was some years ago."
While her side may have lost, Peggy says this election was an extraordinary event. Seeing the large crowds and celebrations full of exuberant young people reminded her of another presidential election. "I thought of how it was for me when I was a little girl in 1960 when something new and astonishing had happened: A Catholic—an Irish Catholic—had been elected president," she says. "I thought of Jack Kennedy and that extraordinary night that was so important to me as a child and thought the breakthrough I felt then is the breakthrough so many are feeling now. And it is a beautiful thing to see history regenerate and move forward and broaden itself and surprise us and take its turns."
Peggy says one thing that impresses her about President-elect Obama is his grace. When Governor Palin was announced as Senator McCain's running mate, some in the press zeroed in on her unwed teenage daughter's recently revealed pregnancy. "They went to Barack Obama for his reaction. ... He said, 'My mother was 18 when she had me.' And he took the wind out of the sails of the critics and he also shamed people who were being unkind. He just stopped them going down that road," she says. "You know, in politics you sometimes see grace, but it's mostly when they have to be graceful. That was grace when he didn't have to be. And it was a very touching and lovely thing."
David says instant change probably isn't the right course to take anyway, considering the serious issues President-elect Obama will inherit the minute he takes the oath of office. One of the most pressing issues, he says, is our economic mess—the worst since Franklin Roosevelt was president.
"It's worth remembering that Roosevelt's genius was not in bringing instant change," David says. "It took a good number of years to bring us out of the valley. But Roosevelt built a bridge of hope across the valley for millions of Americans. It made the times easier, psychologically, to get through. To me, that's one of the challenges for Barack Obama—to build that new bridge of hope. To take these masses of people who are out supporting him and make them a force for hope for the longer haul. ... Hope has to keep winning."
In his essay "In Our Lifetime," Henry says the first of these moments was the Emancipation Proclamation, which was announced on New Year's Day in 1863. The next came on June 22, 1938, when African-American boxer Joe Louis defeated German Max Schmeling. Dr. Gates' third moment was on August 28, 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech before a huge crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. "But we have never seen anything like we witnessed last night, when Senator Barack Obama was declared President-elect Barack Obama," Dr. Gates says. "Each of us will always remember this moment. All I can say this morning is: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound." You can read the full essay at TheRoot.com.
Dr. Gates says this election is a crossing of the ultimate color barrier. "It is the culmination of a century-and-a-half campaign for the freedom of our people's rights and a campaign against racism in America," he says. "I can't believe it. Frederick Douglass couldn't believe that Lincoln actually was going to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. And 3,000 people waited in Tremont Temple in Boston Common for the news to come—it didn't come until 11 p.m. on New Year's Day. And the news of Barack's election came at 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time last night. I wouldn't let myself go until we actually heard the news. I was with a bunch of Harvard professors. When they announced it, we jumped up, we wept, we hugged each other, we whooped and hollered, we went totally crazy. It was great—the greatest night of my life."
Gloria says the article has earned her a "big reward and a little punishment too," but she's glad she did it. "What I was trying to say is that the women's movement is about content, not about form. It's not about biology as destiny; it's about making life better for everybody," she says. "So, though I fiercely defend Sarah Palin's right to be wrong, we're really talking about a single standard here. She shouldn't be criticized for her clothes or her children, but she also has to meet the standard for being a vice president, much less a president, which she did not."
Gloria says Governor Palin was chosen as the Republican vice presidential candidate in order to attract a certain demographic, but she says that plan ultimately failed. "She was a temporary benefit because ... everyone was curious about her. [But] as more and more of the content of her policies and her actions and her lack of experience was revealed, she became a liability. And if you look statistically now, you do see that more people left McCain than arrived because of Palin."
The election of President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden was a big victory for women, Gloria says. "To have two men in the national leadership ... who actually are the first two in my lifetime to talk about male responsibility for children through policy and also personally, that is of huge, huge importance to women."
Now that the presidential election is over, Gloria says she's just relieved it went smoothly. "I'm very grateful for the way it happened—without contentiousness, without having to march in the streets to get our votes recounted, without hanging chads," she says. "It's a big thing."
Gloria says that while she supported Senator Clinton, she knew she would be happy if Barack Obama were elected president. "We kind of had an embarrassment of riches," she says. "I feel as if I got my future back in a funny way, because I was in my 30s when I thought my country was moving toward democracy, and then two Kennedys were killed and then Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and it's as if the future died. Now I feel as if our future has come back and in an even better form because the Kennedys and Clintons tried to be inclusive, but this isn't about being inclusive. It is the thing itself. It is actually happening."
David says that even though a woman was not elected this time around, it is clear that it's on the horizon. "[Hillary Clinton] put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, as she said, and women did not make it through the door this year," he says. "But two things happened. One is Hillary Clinton was a real soldier for Barack Obama; she made 70 different appearances for him. She deserves a lot of credit for that. And women rallied behind Obama."
In the 2004 election, Democrats won the female vote by only three points. In 2008, President-elect Obama won the female vote by 13 points. "That says a lot about women in this country," David says. "Their time will come too."
Dr. Gates says his 95-year-old father called him on election night to talk about the moment's significance. "He said, 'Boy, this is the greatest day in the history of the Negro, and I'm glad I lived to see it.'" he says. "That's when I broke down.'"
David adds that he thinks President-elect Obama's campaign was also set apart by its connection to the younger generation, its use of technology and its reliance on the principles of community organizing. "I think it will go down as the best-run campaign in modern times, certainly going back the last 40 or 50 years," David says. "Because of community organizing, along with the Internet, 6 or 7 million people were out there working their tails off. They sent in small amounts of money. It worked."
Peggy says that in Senator McCain's concession speech, he set the stage for the entire country to rally around President-elect Obama. "[Senator McCain] is a great American, an authentically great one," she says. "This is a man who suffered for five and a half years in a prisoner of war camp, and this is a man who has given his life to the rough to and fro of politics in America. I think his statement last night that we must gather round and support the new president was a beautiful thing and a good way to begin."
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