Historical cleansing in Obama elation

There were messages of good will from many Kiwis, but it was the jubilation of Americans that brought tears to Tracey Barnett's eyes.


What? You were expecting real analysis - or even complete sentences this week? Forgettaboutit.

There is no living with me now. All week I've found myself spontaneously shouting, O-BAM-A! at inappropriate moments in public, like a Tourette's patient denied her meds.

Yesterday I had everyone in my grocery line hold hands and sing "Kumbaya".

Maybe that's why my kids won't get out of the car lately.

I half expect the Kiwi populace to call the authorities but people just laugh in shared delight.

What kindness.

I've had a pumpkin pie dropped at my doorstep, M&Ms for medicinal purposes in case of a McCain win, flowers, calls and emails from Kiwis in Dublin, South Africa, America and of course, from our shores here.

You may be a little confused.

I didn't win this election.

Don't mention that to the reader who's written from a Jaguar dealership.

My 11-year-old thinks a car may show up in our driveway.

What can I say?

He has a dream.

Some of your missives were short and sweet: "I shed a few tears for America last night, and for the world." [Auckland]

"THERE IS A GOD!" [Orewa]

"Suddenly you feel like the world is a safer place." [Devonport]

Others began turning to Americans with a new perspective already:

"[Obama] is so inspirational, and real, that it gives me hope that future change may occur. It also gives me a totally different view of America and Americans than those I have been forced to hold over the past eight years.

"Even though I know that the American government is not the same as the American people, the fact was that American people put Bush into the White House, not once, but twice. So now . . . the people seem to me to have achieved a wisdom and maturity that gives us all hope in a difficult world." [Taupo]

And a personal favourite:"What do you think he'd [Obama] be like to live with? All that high rhetoric. You know, not just 'we need more jam' but 'I have dared to hope for jam. It is time for the waiting to end and the dream of jam to be fulfilled. The time for jam is now' etc." [Grey Lynn]

But I must admit, it was the jubilation from Americans that brought tears to my eyes, something I didn't know politics could ever do.

A Kiwi nephew in Manhattan held out his cellphone to his father here in New Zealand at 2am New York time.

You could hear the shouting, dancing and cars still honking in celebration. It wasn't unlike scenes that friends all over the country wrote to tell me about.

Another New York City friend wrote: "After he won, people started going out in the streets.

You could hear people cheering and screaming from all directions.

Everyone we passed on the street had a smile on their face.

We walked past Union Square and there were thousands of people there cheering . . .

I guess the closest comparison I could draw is that it looked like a concert, except that nobody was looking in the same direction.

It was a concert of the self. I've never seen people in a place like New York sing the national anthem with any measure of enthusiasm until then."

America had a singular day of grace.

By day two, the next unrelenting news cycle had already begun, assessing unrealistic expectations versus the ugly reality this president will inherit.

For just one lousy week, couldn't my biggest worry be who will be the First Puppy? But I refuse to let this moment slip by, at least until January 20th.

When I watched the tears flow down the cheeks of Jesse Jackson, standing in a sea of cheering faces of every colour, I couldn't help but juxtapose it with another image I've seen so often in history books.

It is the image of civil rights protesters being blasted by water cannons, with dogs in attack mode, straining against their chains. The softness of Jesse Jackson's tears seemed to cleanse the water once used as a weapon to force so many Americans to the back of the bus.

Who knows what this presidency will become? But I do know that if there is ever a time we need to stop, and see the force of history handing us a marker to show us how far we've come, this is it.

When Barack Obama finished his victory speech, the solemn look on his face seemed to speak volumes as he soberly waved to the crowd.

I wondered what he was thinking.

So much weight to put on just one man's shoulders.

But all I could see on the stage that night - as Barack Obama stood alone - were the ghosts of the thousands upon thousands of good Black American men and women who never got there, crowded behind him, holding him tall.

• Tracey Barnett is an American journalist living in Auckland.


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