Obama was elected US President yesterday, and there was a huge celebration at a bar in Yaletown near our house (see the photo). It felt great to cheer the good news. Ducky and I have both been weeping from time to time over the last few days as the news sinks in.
This is about more than politics. This is a step towards redemption.
The USA merits high expectations. It has great ideals of freedom, justice and prosperity. It does really well at those, by most standards. There is so much to love and admire about the United States. But it has fallen short of its own expectations. Particularly in the last eight years, thanks to… well, I’ll spare you the litany. The country has been stained by the behaviour of its government and voters (i.e. us). We of the USA should feel some shame at this, mixed with our pride of country.
Notwithstanding all the immigrants who vote with their feet by going to the United States, there is a counterflow of US citizens who leave the wreck behind, and seek their fortunes in lands which respect US ideals (like constitutions and liberty) better. Citizens like us. Lands like Canada. Our time in British Columbia has been partly motivated by Ducky’s MS degree, and my desire to escape a Silicon Valley rut, and the joys of being closer to family in Washington. But partly it has been us voting, with our feet, on the USA’s flaws.
Obama’s victory is a concrete sign that the United States is repairing some of those flaws. The 2006 national elections were also a sign. The punishment of the craven and corrupt wing of the Republican party is a sign. Maybe some of the stains on the country, and a bit of our shame, will be cleansed. That is a bit of redemption. It’s worth weeping for.
The United States, a land of liberty and justice, is also stained by illiberty and injustice in its history (and too much persists). To our credit, we are better at acknowledging that history than some other countries where I’ve lived. Of these stains, the racial injustice, still echoing today from our history of slavery, is another reason why we of the US have reason to mix shame with our pride. Obama’s personal connection to the US slave legacy isn’t what you might think, but electing a President with Obama’s skin colour is another sign of redemption — not just for Americans whose ancestors were enslaved, but for all of us tarnished by that legacy. I think that’s also worth all people in the US weeping for.
But I’m disappointed by the strong showing for discrimination in California’s Proposition 8. While the good guys haven’t conceded yet, and absentee ballots or court cases may yet torpedo Proposition 8, a look at the raw vote counts on Proposition 8 show that we marriage equality advocates haven’t reached enough of the state yet. I’d hoped that we’d get a convincing “No” vote, and anchor marriage equality securely in California — but we didn’t. We’ll get there, but our work is incomplete.
I take comfort in the great progress the movement has made since Ducky and I went to our first Freedom to Marry day rally in 1999: strengthening our organisations, establishing civil unions in all but name for same-sex couples, winning marriage equality in California’s legislature and courts, and taking the battle to the final terrain, of equal respect. Raising over $35m and a campaign with thousands of volunteers. Incredible.
Still stained, still shamed, scrub again. But the sense of redemption today is uplifting.