First confession:  I didn’t vote for Obama.  I converted to political conservatism in my late 20’s and have mostly voted Republican since then.  Obama was too liberal for me, plus too inexperienced in the larger political arena. 

Second confession:  I’m white.  Always have been.

Nevertheless, when I read Obama’s inaugural address yesterday, I was stirred–even inspired.  I thought it was a great speech.  Frank on the problems that face us and the hard work needed, yet it had a motivational aspect to it that made me WANT to sacrifice and make the needed efforts. 

An African-American coworker was watching the address live online, as was I–over his shoulder.  At the close of it he turned to me and said, “I feel empowered!  I really do!  I feel like, more patriotic or something!  When I was a kid in school, if I said I wanted to be president some day, the teachers would say, ‘That will never happen.  Forget about that.’ ”

I asked him if that came from a white teacher and he said, “White AND black–black teachers would say stuff like that too!  But now…”  And he shook his head and appeared pleasingly stunned. 

I couldn’t help but be moved.  There was nothing in my life experience to compare to this, so I couldn’t really put myself in his place; but the power of this moment in his life (and not just his) was evident, and I felt some of it.  Like the reflection of light off metal, like asphalt radiates heat even after the sun has set, some of it affected me.  And I more fully realized that something more, something bigger than just a new president taking office, was happening here.

So where does that leave me?  Well… I’m still a conservative.  Obama is still too liberal for my tastes, and I still wish McCain had won the election.  Also, I just checked and I’m still white. 

But I do feel some excitment, and I feel happy for a segment of my fellow citizens who are more excited and proud than maybe they have ever been in their lives.  And I feel hopeful that perhaps this election will ignite something in this country that goes beyond politics and lasts longer than just this administration. 

What can happen when a large group of people “feel empowered,” when they see new possibilities that they previously felt were unreachable?  What kind of hope can that stir up and how will it affect a whole nation?

I’m eager to find out.

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