This is our mountaintop. This is our march on Washington.
I have given up all pretense of working on my literature review and have instead been spending these last few hours of uncertainty reading through the words of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King which is nicely complimented by watching PBS’s eyes on the prize documentary. I have been thinking a lot recently about that time in our history, those years in the fifties and sixties where the civil rights movement united Americans of all backgrounds and colors to work hard for justice and equality, for every man, and every woman regardless of color. If I had lived in the sixties I don’t think I have been content to be a rolling stone groupie, I hope I would have marched to Selma and ridden on the Freedom Rides. That I would have helped register voters alongside the thousands of others who organized and worked for a cause bigger than themselves. I have often mourned as only a political scientist can, that the closest I can get to the march on Selma is to read about it. The closest I can come to imagine the power of that march on Washington is when I walk on the mall myself and try to imagine the sea of faces there that day. What it must have felt like to have known that those seventeen minutes would be talked about forever after and that your participation in those moments and that movement would forever change your life and the lives of all of us who have come after.
This is one of those moments that we will speak about and think about and write about forever after today.
I realized today, that my vote for Barack Obama was not just me exercising my sacred right as an American, speaking my small voice into a sea of other small voices, but my opportunity to March on Washington, at this time of great change in our country. This is my opportunity to see the mountaintop that Martin Luther spoke of. When I vote, when we vote, we are literally a part of history, of our collective American History. This is our generation’s mountain top, this is our American dream. James Madison, George Washington, John Jay, and company dreamt of an America where every man was created equal and endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and property. Their American dream did not give women the right to vote, but when I vote today, that right was made possible by the American dream of equality that was championed by Susan B Anthony, Margaret Fuller, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who stood up and were counted. Our founder’s dream of America marginalized African Americans and other minorities, but their dream was no match for the dreams and hard work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Abraham Lincoln and others. Their work toward a more equal American dream culminated in a 17 minute speech on the steps of the memorial that bears the name of President Lincoln on that hot day in august of ’63, which was followed up by the civil rights act of 1964 and the national voting rights act of 1965.
Our votes today should be seen as a contract with our country. My ballot and my choice, our ballots, our choices show that we promise to reclaim our country, promise to remember this day is only the beginning. This election is a commencement, not the finish line.
I will never know what it feels like to be passed up for a taxi or be profiled by the police because of the color of my skin. I will never know what it must have felt like to been beaten in Mississippi for registering people to vote. I will never know the quiet dignity of purposefully refusing to give up a seat, knowing it would land you in jail and doing it anyway because getting thrown in jail was the point, to show the system was flawed and failing its citizens. I will never know the pain of being denied the right to vote because of the color of my skin or the gender to which I was born. I will never know what it must have felt like to be surrounded by national guardsman on the first day of school on a college campus in the Deep South, or sat silently at a lunch counter while drinks were spilled on me and taunts were shouted in my ears. I will never know what it felt like to have guard dogs attack me during a march, or what the burning lye felt like that was thrown onto people protesting peacefully during that turbulent time.
I will never know that intolerable pain, that infinite sadness, so I voted for Barack Obama this year in honor of those who do.
In honor of Rosa Parks.
In Honor of Brown Vs. Board of Education.
In Honor of Julian Bond and John Lewis.
In honor of our right to protest peacefully.
To honor the hope that one day we will rejoin the group of countries who abide by the Geneva Convention.
In honor of Dr. King and Malcolm X.
In honor of Medgar Evers and Emmitt Til
To Honor the idea of our rights to a fair trial.
To Honor the idea of protecting our environment.
To honor the idea that soon red and blue states will be inclusive and not exclusive.
To honor the ideal of separation of church and state.
To honor the idea that a government should not govern who people choose to marry.
In honor of all those who life’s savings have been marginalized and erased by the greed and corruption of the wealthy 1% who, James Madison once warned, were the personification of “the daring depravity of the times.”
In Honor of the Mississippi Three and the Greensboro Four.
In honor of a candidate based on the content of his character, the depth of his intelligence, and the ability to motivate us to not accept the status quo or feel that our work is done this time tomorrow.
To paraphrase Dr. King, 2008 is not an end, but a beginning.
This is our mountaintop; this is our march on Washington.