Wednesday, November 5, 2008

we - the people - won.

There are a lot of pundits speculating on the significance of the Obama win for African-Americans and for race relations in the USA. I think they’re missing the larger point.

What’s historic about this election is not just the colour of President Obama’s skin, but the scope of his values and the focus-on-the-positive approach he took to his campaign. A new paradigm has been struck.

When you consider the West’s strongest archetypes, and even heroes from the modern age, rarely does a person of principle win out over an evil-doer with dirty tricks. The Torah tells us that the Israelites were chosen to be a light unto the world. To be a living embodiment of God’s teachings. But they were enslaved, spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and then their leader was denied entrance to the Promised Land.

Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek. To embrace generosity over greed. And that the greatest of the commandments is to love, love, love. He was betrayed by one of his inner circle, nailed to a piece of wood, and hung out in public until he died.

Joan of Arc led France to victory in a series of battles against England and its expansionist ambitions. She was captured, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake at 19.

Ghandi fought tyranny, colonization, class, race, and religious persecution through a disciplined campaign of non-violence and said the search for God is the same as the search for truth. He was assassinated by a fellow-Hindu. Martin Luther King was assassinated for his racial and economic equality campaigning. And just as Malcolm X began calling for a more inclusive approach to the Nation of Islam’s civil rights movement, he, too, was murdered by one his own.

And so the idea of a political candidate who dismisses smears and negative attacks from his opponents by invoking Jay Z’s “brush your shoulder off” shouldn't have inspired too much hope. Leading a two-year campaign based on the politics of inclusion, a resolve to advance ideas over attacks, We over They - well, given our cultural references and our history, a campaign like that shouldn't really have worked.

Hillary Clinton was not alone in her assessment that, generally speaking, when you can’t beat 'em, you’ll probably have to join 'em.

Many of us had succumbed to the idea that the path to governance requires a certain collusion with special-interests funders, negative campaigners, and the support of those media-recognized leaders from the most powerful demographic groups who have crowned US presidents in the past.

Obama’s two-year assertion that individual citizens, anonymous voters, and everyday residents could fund, mobilize, and transform the actual political process was an unlikely strategy in light of the examples from our past.

And so the historic significance I’m taking from this election is not just that a majority of Americans voted for a black man.

It’s that after decades of insiders – women’s groups, labour leaders, social justice lobbies, sitting politicians, the private sector, and more – telling us that we wouldn't be able to achieve political power unless we learned to play like the Big Boys, President Obama has come along to tell us that:

Yes We Can.