Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What kind of country?

My son just called from the University of Missouri this morning, November 4, to inform me that he had voted for the first time in his life. He was excited to participate in our democracy. It only took me 10 minutes to vote he said. And my imagination took me to polling places all over the country where voters face long lines that could delay their voting for at least an hour or two, sometimes more. That in itself is a disgrace and a discouragement to voting, but I believe the commitment to democracy this year will outweigh all of that.

It was just last Thursday night that my son called late at night to tell me he had attended a rally out on the main quad at Mizzou for Barack Obama. He had volunteered to help with the rally.
"Guess whose hand I shook," my son asked with high energy in his voice. "Who," I asked.
"I shook Barack Obama's hand as he entered the gate I was staffing, and he shook my hand on the way out too." "Awesome", I said, as he told me that the crowd might approach 40,000.
What an experience for a young man!

This election year has been remarkable. I never would have imagined a black man being elected
in my lifetime. As a native of the South, North Carolina to be specific, I grew up with obvious barriers to black Americans all around me. I remember separate water fountains, separate eating sections, blacks expected to sit in the back of the bus, and blacks limited to balcony seating in theaters. And yet I also remember my home church holding a joint worship service with the members of the African American First Baptist Church, and how some of our own church members walked out. Incredible! I remember entering high school and sitting next to Jewell Edwards, the daughter of the pastor of that same African American church. Remarkable!

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but for the next 100 years blacks in the South were denied full citizenship in our country. I saw that first hand growing up.
Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, and in the process ceded the South to those who rejected full participation by black citizens in our democracy.

What a remarkable year this has been. It has reminded us that democracy is never a finished project; it must always continue expanding. Democracy is an ongoing effort to liberate and empower all citizens, for ours is a participatory government.

On his election as President, Abraham Lincoln said to all of our nation's citizens: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies." Some 150 years later, that same hope and declaration holds true. We are not red state or blue state Americans, we are the United States of America. That is an audacious hope and dream!


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