Last night Miriam and I watched with the world as Barack Obama was announced as the 44th President of the United States. We were in a lively and crowded bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn with some friends-one of whom is a fellow Ohio-native. When the polls on the West Coast closed down, the feeling in the room was a lot like New Years. As we watched the countdown an onslaught of all the emotions I’d been feeling for the entire election season were rushed into 30 seconds. Would he win? If he won, would he remain safe? What if he loses? What will become of this country? What will the world think, do? The last ten seconds the entire bar counted down and erupted into cheers of relief, joy, excitement, pride, and most of all hope. I immediately burst into tears, looked at my girlfriend and held her for a long time. It’s not that I didn’t believe that he would win, because I always knew he would. It was the gratitude in the rest of the United States for taking the vital step towards a better and brighter future.
My tears started again when I saw my mother’s phone number flashing on my cell. To say was in tears would be an under statement; she’d been through the civil rights movement, being a girl growing up in North Carolina in the early 50’s. Hearing her voice, strained by the tears in her eyes I couldn’t contain myself. She whispered to me, “Erika, I thought I’d never see the day!”
My tears lasted only a few seconds and I was immediately on my feet, cheering, jumping up and down and chanting “Yes We Can!” with the rest of the bar. The cab ride home was like nothing else I’d seen or experienced, honking horns, people in the streets celebrating, people of all colors and nationalities were laughing, dancing, honking horns, setting of fire works, banging pots and pans, yelling, hollering, and having the times of their lives. My friends and I were among them all. We didn’t pass a single car in Brooklyn that was not celebrating, smiling, or giving the thumbs up to us.
We retired to Miriam’s in time to watch President Obama’s speech in Chicago. I got instant chills listening to him speak as though only he and I were the only two people in the room. The thing that attracted me to Barack in the beginning wasn’t his race, it was the hope that he spoke of. He gave me hope that the world that I lived in wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was. He gave me hope that positive changes could be made in the United States, he lit the fire of excitement in the dream that is America. He inspired a nation of disbelievers and those who were ready to give up that all was not lost, and that something could be done.
The victory is bitter sweet. This morning on the way to work from Miriam’s my eye stopped on a particular Obama button. It’s the same button I been wearing for weeks. Obama Pride. I caught the gaze of the guy sporting the button and we both smiled at each other faintly. While last night’s victory is truly monumental and truly amazing, last night was not victorious for me; a gay woman. California voted yes on Proposition 8, banning the thousands of gay marriages just performed the previous months. Florida also voted to ban same sex marriage and Arkansas voted to ban gay adoption. A giant leap forward in terms of bringing down racial barriers but the banning basic human rights, not to mention lack of separation of church and state, is not real equality.
So me and this guy on the subway exchange the same knowing glance and weakly smile at each other, knowing we’ve come so far but have a long way to go. The following stop a black woman sat down next to me and says “It’s an amazing day, isn’t it, sista?” All I could do is smile, nod, and agree. Because it is an amazing day. A truly amazing, remarkable day. All day I struggled with my feelings to the point that my co-workers and my roommates all asked me why I wasn’t happy. It’s not that I’m not happy, because I am. That said, you can be overjoyed with happiness that is unimaginable and still be a little disconcerned.
As I said, last night the United States took an amazing step forward with the eyes of the world watching. My thoughts and good “bugga wugga” go out to the new First Family and I’m so excited for the next four years. I just hope that we keep making those steps for true equality that’s not based on skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or religion. Equality that is for all people.