by Lang Whitaker

I was born in the United States of America, and I’ve lived here for over thirty years now. My grandfather and my father each served in the military. I was here in New York City on 9/11. I’ve interviewed Pres. Jimmy Carter, I’ve visited the White House…heck, I even watched all 9 hours of HBO’s John Adams miniseries.

Point being: I love the United States. Really, I love the U.S. of A. I always have, and I always will. My country isn’t perfect, but it is my country. It’s the country to which my great-grandparents immigrated when they were looking for a better life. It’s the country my wife’s parents fled to when a Communist dictator took over their home. This country has allowed me to pursue my dreams, to make a life for myself.

My country has been very, very good to me.

But I’m struggling to remember a moment where I was more proud of my country than I was last night.

One of the coolest things about living in New York City (and I mean right in the middle of New York City) is that even when I want to tune the world out, it’s hard to do. I live five stories above a busy intersection, and all night long I can hear buses, police sirens, drunk bar patrons…the sounds of the city. At this point I’m so used to the noise that I’m not sure I can live without it. Those sounds rest in the back of my mind like a safety blanket, letting me know that the city I live in is alive and well.

There are only two times I can remember hearing the sound of the city erupting in joy:

1) When Aaron Boone hit the home run to beat the Red Sox in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. All the bars went crazy, and what had been a relatively quiet night suddenly became a night of wild celebration.

2) Last night.

At 11:00 p.m., as CNN said they were going to announce the latest from the polls on the West Coast, all of a sudden they called the election for Barack Obama. And outside my window it sounded like New Year’s Eve. For the next hour, I could barely hear my TV over the car horns honking, random screams of joy, the people chanting Yes We Can!

It was a special moment for many Americans, but especially those of us who value diversity and advocate equal rights for all people. That said, I did not vote for Barack Obama because he’s black; I would have voted for him if he was green. I voted for Barack Obama because I think he is one heckuva politician and one heckuva leader. Of all the people who ran for President, Barack Obama was the one who I most wanted to represent me.

I first heard about Barack in the spring of 2004, when I read this story in the New Yorker. I still remember reading that story — about, at that time, a guy running for the Senate from Illinois — and thinking, Wow. He seemed so impressive and informed and everything our current President was not. A few months later, Barack gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention, and as he was introduced I started telling Wifey that this guy was going to do something big some day. I just never thought it was going be this soon.

Even if you don’t agree with his politics, you have to admit that the man knows how to organize, delegate and surround himself with really smart people. I flipped over to Fox News last night and one of the conservative commenters on there was commenting about what an impressive campaign Obama ran. Obama found his message early — change — and stuck with it the entire way. Meanwhile, McCain was wildly flip-flopping from message to attack ad to whatever, desparately doing anything he could to get a foothold. To me, the whole thing was demonstrative of why I think Obama was our best choice, and the candidate most likely to be a great President.

As Barack Obama took the arm of his wife last night on that stage in Chicago, I started crying. Didn’t plan on it, never thought I would. But the world we all live in and care so deeply about took a abrupt turn last night. For the better. And it made me feel proud.

Today, right now, the USA’s swag is phenomenal.

I’m going to close this post with some words from a man named Barack Obama. He’s the new President of the United States of America. The greatest country in the world. Maybe you’ve heard. We don’t know how he’ll do in office, but let’s give him a chance. Who knows? He just might turn this thing around.

Here a few passages from his acceptance speech last night in Chicago…

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

*****

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing – Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America – the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.