With the writer’s permission I am posting this letter he wrote to his mother right after the 2008 election. Dan Moring is a young college graduate from Chicago. He lives in Washington, DC now, and was there on Nov. 4, 2008. His writing is impressive, I think.
The following is in response to his mother’s question, where were you when Obama was announced the winner of the election?
The actual moment of the election call was not terribly memorable, since I was actually mid-hop between watering holes on U St when we just heard an enormous scream of elation and people starting streaming out onto the streets. We went to the nearest bar to watch the concession/acceptance speeches. Then when we left that bar, the street was like a mob scene, with people making ad-hoc percussion instruments, chanting "O-Bam-A" and "Yes We Can."
So, with apologies to Gill Scott Heron, "The Evolution Will not be Televised."
I didn't have a camera, but there's a video on the Post website here if you want to catch a little flavor:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2008/11/05/VI2008110500629.html?sid=ST2008110301127
After boogeying in classic style at 14th and U St (the epicenter of the race riots that ravaged the city 40 years ago) for about 45 minutes, I walked my companion home and, returning back up New Hampshire Ave, hit a crowd of probably hundreds streaming down 16th Street en route to the White House.
I joined them, bouncing jauntily to the triple staccato of horn beeps (short-short-long: yes-we-can) and deeper, more complex rhythms improvised with pots and spoons; claps and stomps; cheers and chants. Along the way, total strangers hugged, slowed to give Hi-Fives to passing cars and cops, or just nod with broad grins.
As we neared Lafayette Square, the fine mist subsided and, crossing the park onto Pennsylvania Ave, with the White House darkened and the shadows of snipers crawling the roof line, I heard the chants of "Move Bush, get out the Way" and"Na-na-na-na...hey-hey-hey...good-bye" subsumed into a rousing (if totally off-key) rendition of the national anthem.
Looking around, I saw the patchwork quilt of "my America"--the "real America" that I grew up in, that I know and love. I caught a glimpse, in reflection, of the America that many of us there assembled perhaps forgot at times over the past years dominated by cynicism, profligacy, betrayal, and distrust--between the government and the people, and among the people themselves.
But beyond that penumbra, so perfectly symbolized by a darkened White House, I saw reflected in the assembled group the mathematical fact that any third grader understands--Addition is simpler than Division; the Greatest Common Factor is easier to find than the Lowest Common Denominator.
People of many ages (though primarily young--it was 2 am), all colors, ethnicities, and styles--festooned with Obama gear, American flags, and above all, broad smiles and sparkling (albeit, again, sometimes glassy) eyes. People excited by that basic concept--the heart of free will--Yes We Can.
The crowds I'm sure are parodied by certain sectors of the voting and non-voting populace, in the United States and elsewhere. But we are not motivated simply by a personality ("celebrity," as the zero-sum line went), nor by hatred and rage, nor by dewy-eyed naivete. We've seen things change drastically since we cast our first votes as citizens, we know some reasons why (there's blame to share), and we think we can do better. One thing is certain--We're sure as hell going to try.
My brother is often fond of saying, "just because you can doesn't mean you should." As my thoughts on the exercise of individual freedom have developed over the years, I always viewed this "Can/Should" distinction somewhat negatively--as the dividing line between liberty and license. The freedom to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose. But sometimes if you can, you absolutely should.
As we come down from the elation and catharsis of that moment a few nights ago, "Yes We Can" morphs into “Yes we Should,” and ultimately "Yes We Must."
Now, as never before, we have a view of our past and we see what's brought us to this point, good and bad, and we see where we're heading. It looks rough.
In looking at the enormity of the problems facing us--all of us--we no longer have the luxury to retreat to our respective corners and curse the darkness descending on our future. We must stoke the flames that brought us to this point, and light the way to our better tomorrow. With those ballots cast, we began to write the next chapter in our history. It will have lots of twists and turns, but I think, if we get all the characters involved, it can still be a great tale.
So yeah, I think I'll remember it like that.