By David Joel Miller.
We didn’t think we would see this.
We have come so far to get to today. We have so far left to go. I have some very conflicted feelings on this historic day. I did not expect to see this.
Let me begin by saying that this year I officially become an old person, at least by some government standards. Like all old people, I have seen a lot of change in my life. Some of it good and some bad. I did not think I would live to see some of this!
Today I feel more proud of my country than ever before. Not that we have solved our problems, but because we have the courage to face them. Some will suggest that my optimism is the beginnings of senile dementia. Let’s hope not.
There are plenty of reasons for me to be sad and pessimistic about this country’s future. But there are also good reasons for me to feel hope.
My generation watched us put a man on the moon. When I was born antibiotics were not widely available and there was no polio vaccine. I saw my grandparents get an indoor bathroom and running water instead of an outhouse and a pump.
We also witnessed the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. It seemed like anyone who spoke out for the good was overwhelmed by the bad.
We witnessed the shootings at Kent state, American soldiers shooting college students who were protesting the war. There was the trial of the Chicago Seven, a diverse group who had taken the protests to the Democratic National Convention.
Brave young men went off to war to defend our country. We were told that was why they were going. They have continued to be sent off to war and they still come home to less than their sacrifices deserve. We wanted to end the practice of sending so many of America’s best off to fight wars, some of which made little sense. They continue to fight. We could not curb our countries appetite for foreign incursions.
There were protest marches and civil rights marches, mostly in the south, and more African-Americans could vote. There were some people, black and white, who were killed for trying to register people to vote. There were church bombings.
But the voters did get registered and they did vote. And then those who only a short time before had no voice in the process, the poor and the minorities, they began to run for office. We hoped that change could come.
Very distantly, as if through a dark pair of sunglasses I remember a time when I saw a place with two bathrooms, one for whites and a separate building for “coloreds.” And there was school desegregation. There were sit-ins at lunch counters and place that refused service because of your skin color or what you wore.
The law no longer sanctions these practices. I wish I could say that it no longer occurs. The making folks unwelcome is subtler now.
When I went to high school we got into fights sometimes. You used your fists and the first time you got suspended for three days. Today kids bring guns to school and they shoot each other. We also expel kids for bringing a plastic knife in their lunch. Zero tolerance may make us feel safer but more kids are dying at school, at home, and in their neighborhoods.
I did not believe that a major political party would nominate a person of color, but they did. Nor did I expect that my country would elect a person of color to the presidency, not yet, not so soon, not in my lifetime. But we did. Not once but twice.
At first some of the older white folk, we tried to explain this away. He wasn’t black, they would say. He is biracial some said. We can claim him too. I like to think that he is a lot like me, an American first, with some Irish blood thrown in, just like me. But there is something different, very, very different about President Obama’s election.
There was a time when any black blood made you black. And to be white you needed all white blood. It is clearer now than before that most people of color have some white blood in them. We have also learned that those of us that used to think of ourselves as “white,” we all have a whole lot of nationalities and races on our family trees.
This country has learned to accept our president as Black because that is what he says he is. More and more people have come to see him as a loyal American who wants only the best for our country and who represents us all regardless of our race or religion.
There are people who resist this new era. It would be comforting to think that all people like me are good and all others are bad. This leads to hating other races, religions, styles of dress and even music preferences. Some continue to dismiss others because to accept them would be threatening. But we have moved forward, some for better and some for worse.
My generation has also left an evil legacy. We thought that drugs were good. The pharmaceutical companies told us they had a drug for everything. We tried drugs for expanding consciousness and drugs to make you happy. In the end what we found was that the over-dependence on drugs made you addicted.
The list of problems ahead is endless.
We have not curbed war. We have an epidemic of addiction. We have not yet faced the prevalence of mental illness, nor have we mustered up the will to work on this problem.
Violence permeates our country. Daily our people are shot and killed at work, on the streets, and at home. We have not altered the face or the existence of poverty.
More kids drop out of school and advanced education is becoming more unaffordable at a time that our future demands a highly educated workforce. Our economic leaders look more like robbers than protectors of money, stealing the savings of the elderly to pay themselves bonuses while their company loses money.
It would be easy to see the future as bleak. But on this one day, we can tell ourselves that some of those dreams we dreamt way back when, some of those dreams, they have come true.