We Shall Overcome

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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.

A Piece of History

Barack & Michelle Obama

I was five years old when the Berlin Wall fell. I have few memories of it happening but I do remember some of the scenes; the crowds flooding the checkpoints, the sections finally coming down. I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like at the time, to watch history unfold.

Now I think I know.

Seeing Barack Obama win yesterday is something I will always remember. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought Obama could be elected President of the United States, I would have said no. There were too many divisions; too many obstacles to overcome. And then it happened; Obama won.

I know the election of one man changes little; there is still racism and bigotry in the world and perhaps there always will be. But it’s a step forward and what it means for African Americans and minorities around the world is something words cannot truly describe… it’s the culmination of a dream and just like the Berlin Wall, it’s a moment that will live forever.

For Australia it brings the promise that perhaps things can change here as well. I have long hoped that one day we will have come far enough to have an Aboriginal Prime Minister, that immigrants and minorities will be more readily accepted and the divisions that caused the Cronulla Riots will be healed.

Today that hope doesn’t seem as far away.

I don’t know what kind of president Obama will be but I know this moment is one I will always remember; the scenes in Chicago, the tears at rallies and on the streets. It’s a piece of history. I feel privileged to have watched it unfold.

A time of change

So Easter’s over for another year. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone; I was thinking earlier that it’s hard to believe we’re almost at the end of March… the year’s gone quickly, even if it has been the earliest Easter in years.

I’ve always liked Easter. I’m more spiritual than religious but I like the sentiment that comes with the season; it’s a time of renewal and continuing life and it always makes me think of the changing seasons, the leaves starting to brown. It makes me think of where I am in my life as well and I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last few days.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been needing a change for a while and so recently I applied for a new job. I’m hoping I’ll get it but I realised over the weekend that that’s not the only thing I’ve been frustrated about. I’ve started to feel like I’ve outgrown some of my friendships and I’m not sure how to feel; it’s natural we’d grow apart after ten years but now I’m not sure if those relationships were as important to me as I thought they were.

I also haven’t been feeling well for a few days, so I’ve had a few things on my mind. But then on Sunday everything seemed a little clearer. I guess I just realised that there was no point feeling frustrated any more; the job was out of my hands and did it really matter how I felt about my friends? Those relationships had changed but how I had felt then wasn’t any less real because the feeling had changed now. Resisting the change was stopping me from moving on and I realised I should honour how I had felt in my heart, rather than trying to recapture it.

I’ve always resisted change a little bit, like most people; we’re comfortable in the world we’ve created for ourselves and it’s scary when that world changes. But I’ve always been quick to embrace change once I’ve recognised it and it seemed apt that it should happen on Easter Sunday, right at the end of a difficult week. Maybe the universe was watching out for me.

It seems like everyone is talking about change at the moment, though, doesn’t it? The election has stirred up a lot of those feelings; even if you wanted to avoid the hype I don’t think you could, it’s everywhere. And I’m half the world away; I can’t imagine what it must be like in the US. It’s funny how “change” seems to have become the motto for this election. It’s electrified people, particularly Obama’s supporters, but you hear about change at every election; politicians promise how they’ll be different but usually it’s just a number of empty platitudes. This election is different in that a black man or a woman could become president for the first time but most of the spin is still the same.

One of my favourite songs is David Bowie’s Changes and I came across this video earlier which captures it perfectly, all the candidates wanting to be the agent of change. I thought it was so funny, particularly at the end when they all started singing the chorus! But it’s true, change really has become the theme for 2008 – but why? It’s too simple to say it’s just Bush; I’m sure Bush is a big factor but the changes being talked about are more widespread than that. It’s a number of factors coming together; the economy, housing affordability, health care, gas prices, climate change, Iraq… but are they any different to the issues normally talked about during an election? I’m a bit confused about why the whole “change” theme has caught on so much, except because the candidates are so different and foreign policy.

To be honest the way the entire election is being reported over here is starting to annoy me, though. I don’t like the way the media thinks we have a right to say who we (or should I say they) think should be president. John Howard criticised Obama in 2007 after Obama announced his presidential bid, saying al Qaeda should “pray” that Obama and the Democrats win in 2008. He was deservedly roasted for interfering but isn’t the media being hypocritical? They often talk about which candidate would be “better” for Australian interests and stories like this one on Hillary Clinton hardly seem balanced. Online Opinion even carried out a poll of the candidates Aussies would pick. I know it’s in the media’s nature to speculate but their attitude has to be influencing their reporting – and they’re already biased because of their distaste for Bush.

I think everyone has the right to an opinion on any election, whether it’s in their country or not, but it should be just that, an opinion; the media’s influencing the way Australians look at the election and therefore how we look at the US. I’m no fan of Bush but I will always be a friend of America; 9/11 was a day that changed my life and the attitude that some people have towards America now disturbs me and doesn’t all come from Bush… it says a lot about us and if we’re talking about change, that’s something I’d like to see change about us as well. Maybe this election can be a catalyst.

I think the candidates need to careful about all this talk of change. If that’s what they promise and in the end little changes, they’re setting themselves up for a backlash. But even if there is change, that doesn’t mean it will be noticeable right away; change takes time to implement and often you only see it later, looking back. As the David Bowie song says – time may change you but you can’t trace time.

So anyway that’s what I’ve been doing over Easter, making some changes. I hope you had a good Easter and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of posting and commenting again after a long break. And oh, if you’re a Bowie fan like I am, there’s a great clip of Bowie singing Changes live available here; just don’t blame me when it gets stuck in your head. 🙂