Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Wins, Thoughts

Barack Obama, 44th President.

Quick thoughts on what probably is the busiest day of blogging in history.

I watched the coverage at Dog and Duck Pub in Austin. Needless to say, Obama supporters dominated the crowd, both in number, enthusiasm, and pitchers purchased. Though there was no volume on the televisions, the myriad of CNN's visual gimmicks kept us interested although just as ignorant to relevant information. Of course, it helped that Obama was closing states with a swiftness akin to the failings of the big wall street banks lo these last weeks and months. That kept us happy.

In the middle of the ballyhoo, someone glanced up to see updates, as the Western states were pending closure...California, Oregon, Washington, etc...As we did, the screen immediately shifted from stats, states, colors, numbers, and jumble, to the announcement that "Barack Obama [has been] elected US President." This announcement was, of course, met with resounding cheer followed by the gut wrenching suspicion that CNN's visuals guy had mashed the wrong button in the mayhem. We soon found the former be the more apt reaction. Barack Obama had been elected as the 44th President of the United States. As has been greatly publicized, he is the first African American to hold said office.

As the announcement was verified, thanks largely to the 55 electoral votes of California, we somewhat unpatiently awaited the words of both McCain, in defeat, and Obama, in historic victory. McCain, to his credit, gave quite an impressive speech. I personally lost a lot of respect for the Senator over the last year or so, which is to say that there was quite a bit to be lost. I don't necessarily think John McCain is the vindictive, aggressive, angry, conniving man he seemed to have become in the hurricane of the campaign. I was, however, quite disappointed in the crowd and their inability to be gracious in defeat, as Senator McCain so aptly was.

With that out of the way, we headed outside and awaited Obama's victory speech. I was reminded of the location as I stood listening to folks drunkenly holler and cheer. President-Elect had yet to take the podium, however, which made the interruptions trivial and representative of the excitement of the election in general. With full realization that I was watching at a bar, I found myself getting a little frustrated with the hooting and hollering during Obama's speech. Even more frustrating with said noisy, I think what killed me was the drunken conversation going on right in front of me. It wasn't even loud. I couldn't stop focusing on what they were saying, and none of it was relevant given the situation. I had to keep reminding myself that I'd be able to listen to the speech again later. Anyway, it wasn't that big of a deal.

Soon after the speech, we headed out. Praveen, Berto, Sarah, Dustin, Jessica, others were headed to the Driskill to meet up with Mike and Chris for party time. I headed home, and drove down Congress on the way. The sidewalks were filled with folks celebrating, likely aided by the alcohol surging through their blood and brains. To add to the cacaphony was a myriad of honking horns from fellow motorists. I was pleased by the idea that there were likely folks out 'Cruisin',' a la Smokey Robinson or American Graffiti.

I got through Congress and headed across the highway down 11th street. From the time I crossed the threshold of IH-35 into "East Austin." The mood was quite different on this side of town, which is interesting given the ramifications of the election on lower wage citizens, many of them non-white. I saw no one in the streets, heard no honking horns, saw no parties or celebrations.

I share this observation for a couple of reasons. First, in a global image sense, Obama's election can be great. In a social sense, same. Regarding the participation in our democracy, the election was awesome. For those hoping for a paradigm shift in the "American Ideology," Obama aptly serves as figurehead. One sees this reaction in the folks downtown, getting drunk, driving their cars around, prepared to show up late to work tomorrow. On the other hand, Obama's election brings with it an amount of hope that I have yet to see trumped at any other time in my life. With hope also comes accountability. The amount of support that Obama recieved from folks from all different walks of life, with varied ideologies, will also burden Obama with an equally varied and extensive deluge of expectations. My greatest hope is that the folks who couldn't afford to dwell in the ideological, the abstract, the folks who couldn't afford a night out, a day late to work, and even the car to honk in celebration, will see a tangible amelioration of their very real problems.

Coming from me, this might seem strange. I tend to dwell in the abstract. In that, I have a very real respect for the ways in which abstract things such as ideology can and do dominate the ways in which we create, discuss, and fix problems in our world. To make the surface change without altering the ideological underbelly that caused and has perpetuated the problem in the first place is moot. Indeed, such action simply deflects guilt away from the ideology and places it, in the form of self-damning, squarely on the victim of the inequality.

However, I've come to realize how much easier it is to speak about such concepts which, as some might say, "are only academic," in the comfort of my safe home, with my safe job, my college education, and my reliable vehicle I drive to work every day. It's easy to speak about such intangibles as ideology over a lunch out with colleagues and coworkers. The fact is, there are people suffering. Not only suffering from the pain of feeling secluded from a democracy, left behind in the school and work system, unable to provide the comfort of a safe home...but suffering from the all too-real poverty, malnutrition, homelessness, fear, violence, mental illness, physical sickness and pain which plagues our nation from coast to coast. We clearly need to address the institutional systems that facilitate these abhorrent situations. But we also need to get on the ground, so to speak, and prove that we care about each and every person within our borders. This, to me, is a great challenge that Obama is facing.

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