We Shall Overcome


If there’s one good thing about having insomnia it’s that when something happens in the world, you get to see it at the same time as everyone else. Early yesterday morning, while most Australians were still fast asleep, I experienced a moment in history I’ll never forget.

To see an African American in the White House is an amazing thing; it’s not just what it represents for the civil rights movement and how far America has come but also for disadvantaged people around the world. It’s no less than the power to dream, for a child to believe they can grow up to be anything they want to be. It’s a day I was not sure I would see and I’m happy I have.

What struck me watching the scenes from Washington was how joyous they were. When Obama won the election there was an outpouring of emotion, like all the emotions that had been restrained for so long were suddenly bursting forth. But this was different. This was like a celebration and perhaps nothing showed that better than seeing two million people huddled together in the freezing cold, waiting in anticipation. It was an amazing sight.

I’ve never seen crowds like that. The conditions must have been awful and the lines looked like they stretched back for kilometres but they weren’t ideologues or the Democratic faithful; they were just ordinary people who had been touched by Obama’s message and wanted to be a part of history. That’s what was so moving, particularly during Obama’s speech.

The other thing that was interesting was seeing the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. For so long they had fought against the discrimination that had held them back, trying to prove they could fly as well as any other man, and to see them there, with the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Hudson River, for me highlighted what this moment meant. Seeing two different eras of pilots who once would have been separated by so many divisions being honoured together shows how far America has come.

Of course Obama’s election is at best a stepping stone. It doesn’t end racism; it doesn’t fulfil the dream of Martin Luther King so many years ago. Racism might never be something we can truly be free of, only marginalise. What this moment represents instead is another step forward, another step towards tolerance. And the example it sets for the rest of the world and the hope it gives to minorities is something words cannot describe. For myself, it gives me the belief that I can be more than I am, and gives me hope that one day we will have moved past some of the divisions in Australia as well.

Personally I am hopeful that Obama will be a good president. The world needs stable leadership right now and he seems to be making the right signs but he faces a difficult task with the economy and two wars. But I was impressed by his speech; I thought he struck the right balance between responsibility and optimism. I hope he will be able to bring people together and end some of the division and from an Australian point of view, I hope our relationship continues to grow. Israel & Palestine remain in my thoughts as well.

For me, though, it isn’t about that right now. It’s about this moment in time and I think it transcends your race, political persuasion or where you live in the world. There were over two billion people watching Obama’s inauguration worldwide and watching the crowds and celebrations in Washington, it again reminded me of the moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall, events which united all of us together as one. Right now I don’t feel like an Australian but a citizen of the world and I’m glad I was able to watch it live.

I thought I’d post a video to mark the occasion as well. During the civil rights movement We Shall Overcome became a key anthem played at rallies and festivals. I can’t think of a more appropriate song to mark the moment. This is Bruce Springsteen’s version, a tribute to Pete Seeger.

Congratulations to President Obama. Now the hard work begins.

5 thoughts on “We Shall Overcome

  1. It was a wonderful experience and one which I had not expected to see in my lifetime….except in Hollywood movies and on 24

    You are right too…the sight of all those people stretched farther than the eye could see was remarkable

  2. It was hard not to get swept up in the moment. When they were showing people all across the world cheering and seeing the joy, I couldn’t remember a time in my life that I had personally seen such a vast amount of people come out to show how happy they were for the leader of another country.

    You are right, now the hard work begins. I wasn’t sure what to think of him, to be honest because of some of the people he chose for certain positions. So far he has made me a believer.

    Now get some sleep! 😉

  3. I had a feeling you would be awake for this, cj. 😉 I got up early (for me); 8:00 my time, and watched for hours. The last time I spent that much time in front of the television in one day was on Sept. 11, 2001. I much preferred doing it for this occasion. I noticed the Tuskegee Airmen, too! I can’t even begin to imagine their thoughts. We sang We Shall Overcome when I was in school. Thank you for the support. This election is having great impact on the whole world, and I’m proud.

  4. MQ – It was a wonderful day, wasn’t it? A day we’ll never forget. It was something I thought I’d see one day but I didn’t expect to see it for another 20 or 30 years. That it’s happened sooner says a lot for the American people – but I expect it also says a lot for the state of the world right now. But that’s when you need leaders to stand up as well.

    You remember we saw Spielberg there? You wouldn’t have believed the scenes from the National Mall if they’d been in one of his movies! But they were real… just incredible scenes.

    BD – I can’t remember ever seeing crowds like that either. I remember there were huge crowds for Reagan in Europe, and Kennedy attracted some large crowds, but nothing like this. The only thing that might compare is the wedding of Charles and Diana but I don’t think even that was more than a million people and they were spread out… to see so many people gathered together in one place was just incredible.

    I hope Obama does well but I have a few nagging doubts as well… he made so many promises during the election that the cynic in me just can’t see him living up to all of them. But I think so far he’s handling himself well and I’m hopeful, more so than I’ve been in a long time. I guess I’ve got swept up in it as well. 😉

    I’ll try to sleep! I’m getting quite used to power naps, though. They worked for Winston Churchill. 🙂

  5. Muse – I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, so I was probably lucky that I was wide-awake; at least I didn’t have to set an alarm like some of the other Aussies who stayed up! It started at about 4:00 am here and it was one of the few times our news channels crossed to yours, so we got to see exactly what America was seeing. It really was amazing to share in that, one of millions of people… it’s something I’ll never forget.

    Interesting that you noticed the Tuskegee Airmen too. I only saw them a couple of times but it was so moving that they were there that it really stuck in my mind. It must have been the most overwhelming experience; the embodiment of a dream, tinged with sadness by the memory of friends who never saw it come true… I actually read a couple of articles with several of them after the inauguration where they talk about it. Their story is still so inspiring.

    The election has been fascinating and sets an example for the whole world to follow. Let’s hope people can come together and that the message continues in the months ahead.

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