November 4, 2008
Election Day Pride
This is truly a historic day for all of us, whatever the outcome.
This morning at my local polling place the line was much longer than usual. I live in a well-heeled, strongly Republican suburb of Chicago. So while Barack Obama is the "local candidate," I don't expect him to carry DuPage County, which I call home.
To my knowledge Barack Obama has asked no one to vote for him based on his race, yet there is no denying that this is a key issue for some of his supporters. For example, a poll I saw the other day said 97 percent of African Americans plan to vote for the Illinois senator. This figure of support is hard for me to fathom, given that many African-American voters care about "family values" issues, and Obama's liberal legislative record - particularly his staunch support for abortion rights and his ambiguity on gay unions - seems to run counter to those values.
For me, experience, judgment, and agenda should easily trump race for voters. As Martin Luther King Jr. said four decades ago, we ought to be judged on the content of our character, not the color of our skin.
As the line I stood in this morning slowly snaked around to the voting booths set up next to the gym wall in one of our local churches, I noticed an African-American woman a few places ahead of me slowly, carefully marking her ballot. She wore a faded blue headband that had seen many seasons. She had on a pair of black athletic shoes, jeans, and a nondescript shirt. Her vote, if the polls are to be believed, was almost certainly going to go for Obama. The woman was definitely not a typical wealthy DuPage County resident, but here she was, her vote counting as much as anyone else's.
As I waited behind this woman I tried to imagine what this day must mean for her. She looked to be around 60 and so could likely remember the days in our country when discrimination against minorities was much more rampant than it is today. How proud she must have felt on the day when an African-American man was running for president of the United States.
As someone who has dealt with disability my entire life, I remember the pride and joy I felt when Sarah Palin gave her acceptance speech in Minneapolis, highlighting her support for special-needs children. Perhaps this feeling faintly echoes the excitement felt by African Americans and others at Obama's candidacy. As I replaced this woman in the voting booth I felt pride in how far my country has come.
In God's providence I missed living through the days of slavery, Jim Crow, race riots, and other horrors. America indeed still has a lot of problems within and challenges without. But perhaps Obama's candidacy (and, if God wills, his victory) will enable us to turn the page on these sad chapters of our history and begin to more perfectly live up to our best ideals. This is truly a historic day for all of us, whatever the outcome.
God, bless this woman. And bless America, too.