It’s probably not a huge surprise that I’m pretty excited this morning. I don’t know that I have a ton to add to the conversation, but I can’t resist the opportunity to throw a few things into the commons.
I spent a bit of time this morning reading reactions from the 2004 election. One thing in particular struck me: Positivity. Not just the positivity of the people who are happy that their candidate won, but the general positivity that came from Barack Obama’s campaign.
In response to the 2004 results, Jon Stewart wrote, “Oddly, there seems to be more anger and disenfranchisement in the enfranchised. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time when the party that controlled the Senate, the House, the White House and the Supreme Court was so out of sorts about how little respect they get. At a certain point you want to say, ‘OK, Goliath. Stop pretending.'” At times during this election I felt that same way. The Republicans played it angry: They tried to convince the country that despite the fact they’d controlled the White House for the last eight years, they were the underdog.
But the Obama campaign didn’t take the bait. They just kept on keeping on. They were focused on hope and change, letting Obama have his own personality, unlike Kerry’s reactionary personality of 2004.
And that hope and personality seems to be real. I went back and read Obama’s 2004 DNC speech, which by all accounts was his coming out party and the official start of his campaign (though I don’t think he expected that campaign to start until 2012). In that speech he said, “My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.” That’s not rhetoric, that’s truth. He continued, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
Finally he hit on a theme in that speech that he repeated last night: “Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. … In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?” Last night he repeated, “It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”
The way he chose to tell that story was through the eyes of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper. It was a beautiful way to illustrate that our history and successes are not remembered as belonging to a party, but rather to all of us: They’re the things that make all of us proud to live in America.
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves – if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can.
Enjoy your day.