An American in Paris

I just have to say it: I can’t believe I wasn’t in the U.S. for this election. I can’t believe I didn’t get to watch with all of you and the rest of America. I’ve been shamelessly begging friends and family to please, please tell me everything about how it was at Williams and how you felt and how you waited and laughed and cried and hugged and yelled at Anderson Cooper to hurry it on up. I want to know all of it.

I think the sentiment in Paris is similar: relief, joy, one collective exhale, one night of dancing Emma Goldman style followed by one night of good sleep. The kind we haven’t gotten in the past eight years. Here, we watched and cheered and held hands and pretended that when Senator Obama gave a shout out to those “watching from beyond America’s shores,” he was talking about American students abroad in Paris. We knew he wasn’t. We wished, just for this one historic night, that we were home, in America. In Harlem or San Francisco or Chicago or Paresky. But in America.

I still can’t quite believe it. I think November 5, 2008 was the best day of my life. And I know Obama’s not a prophet; and I know that he’s not the answer to all of America’s problems; and I know that we are far from an America where privilege isn’t systematically distributed according to categories of identity including, but certainly not limited to, race; and I know that Obama’s still bound, if not by the limitations of his own philosophies, then at least by the middle-ground that is America’s political system. But I also know that he’s brilliant and hard-working and accountable. And that my brother and his friends called voters in swing states because they wanted to be involved in some way since they’re too young to vote; and that a woman in a rehab program where my friend is working in California talked with her about the election though she wasn’t able to vote and when they found out together that Obama won, they – a white Pitzer student from Nashville and a black ex-felon from Los Angeles – held each other and cried; and that my mom drove with friends to campaign in Philadelphia; and my cousin wrote a blog; and that Jesse Jackson bawled; and John Lewis said he thought he’d never live to see this day; and my grandfather voted early; and that New York City’s Upper West Siders packed the polls at six in the morning; and that we all talked and argued and laughed and wrote and thought and voted and elected Barack Obama the president of the United States.
And when I talked to people at home, everyone said, “We did it.”

So, that’s my reason for ecstasy, for these 24 hours of pure, simple joy. Not just because I can breathe easier knowing that Roe won’t be overturned and evolution will still be taught in public schools and the gay marriage ban won’t be inscribed in the federal constitution. But because this election was exciting and historic and it was ours. All of ours.

But before we replace “yes we can” with “yes we did” just yet, we need to remember that this isn’t the destination. It’s only the departure. We’ve got a ways to go. I, for one, was saddened that voters affirmed Proposition 102, which banned gay marriage in Arizona. And Florida’s analogous Marriage Protection Act. And Arkansas’ Initiative 1, which states that only married couples can be foster parents. And California’s Proposition 4, which mandates a 48-hour period after parental notification before minors can have abortions. And Colorado’s Amendment 46 and Nebraska’s Measure 424, which prohibit affirmative action.

I was especially saddened and angered by the passage of California’s Proposition 8, which eliminated the newly declared right of same-sex couples to marry. I don’t understand how this country can speak so clearly (in at least one very significant forum) on denouncing racism and yet continue to enact legislation making people second-class citizens. I’m with poet and activist June Jordan on this one: “freedom is indivisible.” Recently, we’ve been saturated with images from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Where are the hunger strikes and the marches and the rallies? Where are the manifestos and songs and poems? Where’s our movement? Proposition 8 made California into a battleground, and we’ve got a battle to fight. We’ve got a world looking on, a united and galvanized youth, a president who will listen and a whole lot to tackle.

What are we going to do about it?

Let’s write. Let’s talk. Let’s do something, Williams.

Claire Schwartz ’10 is a political science major from New York, N.Y.