Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The America We Want To Be

The Wheel of History

It is a blustery day in Austin, Texas
where the Bush stronghold, thanks to redistricting,
held ground even though my home town
and county went Dem 2:1.

There is no good reason to ask why
tears came to my eyes when Obama took the stage
in Grant Park, or maybe there is.

I grew up on the North Shore about 40 miles
from Chicago, which is my mother city.
Yesterday — as I made calls to people in Pennsylvania,
where I was born, where my family lived for decades,
to Indiana, where I went to college one year,
to New Mexico where J's family kept a vacation home,
to Colorado where J and I slept alongside
Mineral Creek one June evening and woke up
covered in ice — America was familiar to me again,
felt like home.

An Hispanic woman in Albuquerque told me she
was a Republican but would no way vote for that
paper doll McCain picked. She was Obama all the
way and so was everyone in her neighborhood.
She told me she was 73 years old and lived
alone, but if he won she was going to down
two beers to celebrate.

In Ohio a young man answered the phone
and called his mom. As I talked to her, he
and what sounded like ten friends -- but could have
been just a brother or two -- hooted and cheered
and shouted: Obama! Obama! Obama!

The promise of the Civil Rights movement,
the affirmation of the American Dream,
the courage of a single man standing like a tuning fork
before untold thousands everywhere he goes
in a country where anyone can pick up a sophisticated
sniper weapon —

these are all a good excuse for tears,
tears of joy, relief, tears in Spanish, Hindi,
Arabic, a vast sigh of relief all over the world.

D. C., where I followed Jesse Jackson around
in 1968, went 93% for Obama and danced
in the streets in front of the Bush White House.

In Austin in February 07 when 20,000 people
stood in the rain for more than an hour listening
to his Wheel of History speech there was zero
security — just a man telling a story,
an American story.

As I walked, several years ago, from Powells to
Seminary Bookstore in Hyde Park I couldn't shake
the feeling that I was taking deep steps —
through my own history, alongside
that beautiful lake I call Mother Blue —

deep steps on soil that reminds me water and
earth, wind and sky, are connected.

I haven't recognized the America I came from
in our government for decades, maybe ever.

It is an America of achievement and optimism,
a can-do America, a gathering of neighborhoods
and communities, a kind of honor and sense
that comes from the circle of the family.

Casting aside the cloak of cynicism
I have dragged around my entire adult life,
and at the risk of uttering blatant optimism —

Last night I saw
the America we want to be.

©Susan Bright, 2008

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-ninety books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This morning I woke up without a headache--for the first time in recent memory.

Tony Z

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

Last night at dusk I went for a walk in the greenbelt. As I walked I felt the world shifting toward balance. I felt more peaceful than I’ve felt in a long time with a sense of real hope and possibility. By 10:00 pm the good news had spread far and wide. The doors of possibility have swung wide open. I pray we all step through and support our new president. He will need all our efforts and prayers.

Last Night
Four Haiku
For Obama

Last night
Trees in darkness
Filtered moonlight

Last night
First night of hope
Breathing free

Last night
Trees stand together
Shining through darkness

Last night
First night
Together, with hope

Pamela Overeynder

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Susan,

Thanks for sending the Obama mariachi band-- I think Obama is a mariachi tune--you just can't not want to dance to what he's saying.


9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You called it a long time ago!

I thought of you in the middle of a dance of joy last night.

Elation, hope and now the work begins.


9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes - Susan, this is great, and it was the greatest moment of my life, here in
Chicago. I'll forward your message to my family and friends.

Thank you,


10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this morning's blog report. In 1963 I participated in a sit-in in Beaumont, Texas, and never thought I would see a night like last night. Still though.. Yes, still, it is much too soon to claim that yesterday's victory means we, as a country, have crossed some incredible line, that African Americans can no longer claim they are being held back. This was a giant step, but too many black people still suffer because of bigotry, because of the sins of a Jim Crow past in the south and even in the north. Others also suffer, but let's remember that it was only ten years ago (in August) that James Byrd, Jr., was murdered and ten years ago (in October) that Matthew Sheppard was murdered- two hate crimes that do NOT define us as a country, but do remind us that we still have a long way to go, that we are not yet at the end of the journey.
But I agree with you totally,it was a great, great night and I, too, cried with joy as I watched the returns coming in and the tears flowing from Jesse Jackson's eyes and the shakiness in John Lewis's voice. Let us hope that this is a true beginning and not a culmination.
My best,

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan--thank you for the moving poem--expresses so much of what I'm feeling now, far better than I could. A friend we were with last night said after Obama spoke said, "Now it's time for all of us to work for the America we want to see created." He's right. I know that's your mission at Plain View Press.
Thanks again, Marcia

10:15 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

thanks SB. the waterworks were on everywhere I went last night.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Susan. Very beautiful.

Yes, we did!


10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your words on Obama's (and the American people's) glorious, joyous victory. I, too, shed tears, something releasing since Jessie Jackson didn't win the nomination in 88, and all the years of an American
politics alien to me.
c suzler

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

another note from Tony Zurlo

Suddenly, it may be cool to be an American again

By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer William J. Kole, Associated Press Writer 13 mins ago
VIENNA, Austria – She was a stranger, and she kissed me. Just for being an American.

It happened on the bus on my way to work Wednesday morning, a few hours after compatriots clamoring for change swept Barack Obama to his historic victory. I was on the phone, and the 20-something Austrian woman seated in front of me overheard me speaking English.

Without a word, she turned, pecked me on the cheek and stepped off at the next stop.

Nothing was said, but the message was clear: Today, we are all Americans.

For longtime U.S. expatriates like me — someone far more accustomed to being targeted over unpopular policies, for having my very Americanness publicly assailed — it feels like an extraordinary turnabout.

Like a long journey over a very bumpy road has abruptly come to an end.

And it's not just me.

An American colleague in Egypt says several people came up to her on the streets of Cairo and said: "America, hooray!" Others, including strangers, expressed congratulations with a smile and a hand over their hearts.

Another colleague, in Amman, says Jordanians stopped her on the street and that several women described how they wept with joy.

When you're an American abroad, you can quickly become a whipping post. Regardless of your political affiliation, if you happen to be living and working overseas at a time when the United States has antagonized much of the world, you get a lot of grief.

You can find yourself pressed to be some kind of apologist for Washington. And you can wind up feeling ashamed and alone.

I'll never forget a ride in a taxi in Vienna when the world was waking up to the abuses wrought by U.S. troops at the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

My driver, a Muslim, was indignant. "You are American, yes?" he asked in that accusatory tone so familiar to many expats.

"Uh, no, Canadian," I said.

And it wasn't the first time I fudged where I was from. I speak three foreign languages, so I have a bit of flexibility when it comes to faking. At various times, I've been a German in Serbia, a Frenchman in Turkey, a Dutchman in Austria.

I'm not proud of it. But when you're far from home, and you're feeling cornered, you develop what you come to believe are survival skills.

Last spring, after the Bush administration recognized Kosovo's independence, a Serb who overheard my American-accented English lobbed a beer can at me in central Vienna. He missed, but spat out an unflattering "Amerikanac" and told me where to go.

On another occasion, an Austrian who heard my teenage daughter chatting with a friend pursued her, screaming, "Go Home!"

Physical attacks on Americans overseas are rare. Yet some of us felt vaguely at risk.

Maybe it was just the hostility we'd encounter even in friendly venues such as cocktail parties, when our foreign hosts would surround us and demand to know why U.S. troops were roughing up inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Or refusing to sign the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Or rejecting the Kyoto accord on climate change.

Maybe it was the State Department, which issues regular travel advisories urging Americans to keep a low profile even in tranquil Austria.

My children came of age in Europe, and in a hostile post-9/11 world we had to teach them to avoid being too conspicuously American. Don't speak English loudly on the subway. Don't wear baseball caps and tennis shoes. Don't single yourselves out, guys, and even worldly wise Americans can unwittingly become targets.

We didn't overdo it, but there's always been that tension. That difficult-to-describe sense of vulnerability. That nagging instinct that maybe we'd better watch it, because our government is intensely unpopular and we're not entirely welcome.

I know Americans who at times have felt that way even in laid-back Vienna, where the greatest danger is probably eating a bad pastry.

That's what made Wednesday's unsolicited kiss so remarkable.

I don't want to read too much into an innocent smooch, but it didn't feel particularly pro-Obama, even though the new U.S. president-elect enjoys broad support here. No, it seemed to impart two sentiments I haven't felt for a long time: friendship and admiration.

Obama captured it in his acceptance speech — this sense that despite holding America's feet to the fire, the rest of the world is rooting for it and wants it to lead and succeed.

"Our destiny is shared," he said, "and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

Overnight, Americans did something their harshest critics in Europe have yet to do: elect a person of color as head of state and commander in chief. That gives U.S. citizens some bragging rights, even if a lot of us would just as soon eschew hubris and embrace humility.

I'm a marathon runner, and I have a red, white and blue singlet that I've seldom dared to wear on the Continent. Marathons are difficult enough without enduring catcalls and jeers from spectators.

But my best friend and training partner — who is French — just gave me his stamp of approval.

"Will you wear your Stars and Stripes shirt now? You're allowed!" he told me.


EDITOR'S NOTE — William J. Kole, AP's Vienna bureau chief, has covered European affairs since 1995.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Susan, very nicely woven. Jerry was immersed in Video The Vote, a national project for our region.
Best Wishes,
Roger Colombik

11:08 AM  
Blogger SB said...

It is truly a great day! Thanks for sending.
Tamar Diana Wilson

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ivan's blog is
He just sent this.

By Ivan G. Goldman
The Republican propaganda machine has added a new paragraph to its manual. Instant word went out to all the Fox-o-crats and their allies to predict that President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will now make war on each other. That’s just wishful thinking.
McCain and Bush agreed on 90 percent of the issues. Pelosi and Obama will beat that by a mile. Neither is a deluded simpleton, which makes common ground much easier to find. But delighted as I am that Barack-Obama crushed the team’s misguided opposition, I regret not being able to watch Sarah Palin on the day she showed up to -- as she promised while stumping for votes among the misinformed -- run the Senate. That would have been a sight to see.
As it turned out, defeating McCain-Palin was a piece of cake. In a nation where millions have already seen the value of their 401K’s and home equity chopped to splinters, where those who haven’t lost their jobs fear that they will, and owners of small businesses are frightened and barely surviving, it became harder and harder to convince Americans they should choose more of the same. The hard part was already accomplished --- taking down the national Clinton Machine.
We’ve become so accustomed to a government warring on its citizens that it will be tough to get used to an administration that, for example, might actually take the needs of patients into account when it fashions Medicare legislation. But the pharmaceutical lobby is still out there, along with oil people, the anti-health HMO's, anti-missile-missile alchemists, the arbitrageurs, hedge-fund managers, and all the rest of the corrupters that have been dribbling out tips to “public servants.”
Observe that it was a Democratic Congress that, asked to approve a $700 billion save the self-destructive banking industry, tacked on another $150 billion for its biggest contributors. So yes, there’s a steep road to climb. Obama won because he knew how to turn the corrupters’ weapons against them, raising so much money that they surrendered, unwilling to pour more crooked dollars into the election cruncher. But money is a hermaphrodite. It’s happy to switch sides.
Meanwhile the fourth estate, which is supposed to monitor the players, is in steep, steep decline. Billionaire Sam Zell, for instance, is at work as we speak gutting the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and all the other former watchdogs he purchased with leveraged dollars. Many of us, aware of this sorry circumstance, now look to the Internet for information. But it’s also a mine of misinformation. The Internet and talk-radio crazies were instrumental in spreading the McCain-Palin-Rove message to deluded bumpkins that Obama was a terrorist, socialist, Muslim non-citizen.
With all the twisted factoids, lies, and half-lies flying around, it will take a revived educational system to produce more responsible citizens who can cut through the crap. But Obama and the Congress have inherited an exhausted economy. Revenue from sales, property, and income taxes are all headed down. As recently as the Kennedy Administration the top tax bracket, now 34 percent, was at 91 percent, but the plutocracy hires high-priced accountants and lawyers, plus Democratic and Republican office-holders who for relatively small gratuities will continue to impede reform.
And thanks to stupidity and torpor, the Democratic Congress continues to pour $10 billion a month into Iraq for no rational reason that any fair-minded person can determine. As we look for resources to pull this country out of the pit, Obama should look there first.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia where they are (or were) still fighting the Civil War. I feel a little off-balance today as I try to go about doing my normal things. There is NOTHING normal about today!! The world has changed! This is so unpredictable it takes my breathe away!

I am consciously being not afraid. I want to give weight and energy to this thought: "He is safe". It became my mantra/prayer this morning. "He is safe, he is safe."


Celeste E

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


scot siegel

1:11 PM  
Blogger SB said...

Thank you. That made my day.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday I canvassed to get out the vote in a couple of very poor African-American neighborhoods in Durham, NC. I can't get out of my mind the radiant face of a woman, at least in her late 70's, who proudly told me she had just voted for the first time in her life. On another street a black Verizon repair guy stopped me, asked what group I was with, and said he was too excited to sleep Monday night and knew he wouldn't be able to sleep election night either. But the election wasn't just for them. It was for us all and for the world.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly – it took awhile to figure why I was weeping so deeply, until I realized that it was the releasing of a great burden of accumulated sadness and despair that had settled in my heart since the blast of violent response to our youthful and exuberant revolution of the 1960’s, and continued with advancing cynicism for the past 40 years. What a balm to hope this election offers. And pride.


3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am deeply moved, stirred, and shaken by the response to his
election, to its promise, though I need him to prove himself to me,
that's all. I am very skeptical of East coast educated folks who live
in the bubble of the "middle class" with thin credentials and resumes.
One of my abjectly poor students asked me 2 weeks ago why she should
even care that the banks were going to hell since she had no bank
balance to speak of or a 401K as she had no dimes to spare at all. I
absolutely detest the way we define poverty here and how dismissive of
it we are even on the campaign trail. Both guys hammered away at the
middle class and that was it. Neither has seen abject poverty in the
face nor have they had to live in the absolute terror it brings with
it each day. Yuck!

8:54 PM  
Blogger SB said...

Thanks to everyone who made comments here.


8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for your words and the video, susan...
yes it was a night for many tears, held for so many years...a very complex and rich and inspiring beginning.

on to the new era!

8:35 AM  
Blogger respectisthehub said...

my fellow americans
now we have a chance

8:47 PM  

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