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Obama's One Thousand Pieces

November 7th, 2008

By Rebecca Walker

I can finally stop for a second. And breathe. The election wasn’t stolen.Our candidate is alive. We showed up, changed the world, and plan to get up tomorrow and do it again. We know this because Obama won and there is a whole lot of world left to change. We also know this because President-elect Obama has already sent his supporters an email requesting our suggestions on public policy. True to form, he expects our input to begin right now.

Such is the nature of change. It’s a long time coming, but when it gets here, you better be ready. Obama has changed everything. He showed us how far we were from having true leadership. How far we were from being inspired by our government. How far we were from feeling connected to our friends around the world.

And that’s when we began to fight in earnest to forge a new America.

Because our leaders had failed us, and the market did not police itself.
Because identity politics had proved too political, and full of identity.
Because we have been demoted from liberator to occupier in the eyes of the world.

Because Americans are sleeping in cars by the thousands, and waiting to be seen by doctors in traveling medical clinics by the hundreds. Because they are jumping out of windows in the face of overwhelming debt, and chaining themselves to their homes to escape eviction.

Because we love our children, and everyone else’s children, and want them to live in peace and if not in peace, then at least with hope. Because we believe in Barack Obama and, for the first time in decades, we believe in ourselves.

Now Obama officially inherits our doubts and fears, our giddy rush to change; he carries all of us with him into the White House. His place there is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, necessitated by Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Vietnam War. Today a failing school system, two million incarcerated Americans, and hundreds of thousands of women raped in Darfur necessitate a new dream, Obama’s dream.

In addition to the historic nature of the victory, we don’t yet know the script of that dream. Like the parents of the boomers, we will tell our children to work hard, to get an education. Like our parents, we will tell our children that race and gender have nothing to do with intelligence or worth. But just like that, a page is turned. The bar is raised. What will we tell our children now?

If the tears I cried after learning of the death of Obama’s grandmother are any indication, I suspect the new American dream will be grounded in the sanctity of family. During the final debate Obama spoke of sacred sexuality. He often speaks of the responsibility of fathers to show up, and of parents to turn off the television. He calls his beautiful wife Michelle the love of his life, the rock of their family. There are no mistresses in the wings.

Because he was devastated by his father’s abandonment and saved by his mother and grandmother’s devotion, I suspect we will tell our children to put family first. Not as part of a 1950’s fantasy cooked up by advertisers to sell cars and washing machines, but as the real engine of holistic success. We will be encouraged, in this new America, to believe in triumphant partnership. Stoicism, narcissism, and careerism need not apply.

I predict we will explain race as a set of ideas, nothing more and nothing less. We will say the human experience is bigger than those ideas, so big it cannot be contained with words. This is why we have something in common with everyone, we will say to our children. This is why it is makes sense to be multilingual citizens of the world, rather than ignorant isolationists.

I predict we will instruct our children to strive for mental and spiritual health, in addition to physical health. We will teach expect them to do more with less, and to understand the finite nature of the world’s resources.

We will teach them that extraordinary leadership, supported by an extraordinary base, can change the world. We will model openness for them, because change is inevitable. We will tell them to believe in miracles. We will tell them to believe in themselves.

America is at the end of one story, and the beginning of another. We are fortunate Obama is a writer. We will need his heart and his pen and his intuitive understanding of narrative to bring us to the other side of the current crisis having learned to turn tragedy –of which we are sure to see more—into insight, and how to turn the decline of a superpower into an educational epic of redemption.

We picked the right man for that reason, I believe. Not because he’s qualified and soulful, which he is, and not because he’s committed and brilliant, which he is, but because he knows how to create a phenomenal whole out of a thousand little pieces.

It’s the story of his multiracial, intercultural, working class, ivy league, community organizing life. He’s been doing it since day one.


Comment #1 by Martin on November 8, 2008 - 3:04pm

Thanks for your beautiful, touching, powerful words in the Guardian Rebecca.

Roll on 20 January, I can't wait!

Love and solidarity,

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