Guest Editorial, Jan. 28, 2009
As the Red Line train rumbled along the track of Washington’s Metro on Martin Luther King Day, I was completely struck by the enormity of the historic moment I was witnessing first hand. It is not as if I didn’t know what was going to happen the next day and the impact it would have around the world. And it is not that I didn’t know how the inauguration of a person of color and all that entails would punctuate our history. I was fully aware of all these things. What happened to me on that train, crammed in like a sardine with people of all religions, races, and stations in life, was that my heart finally embraced it.
After all my years in politics, I’ve grown a bit skeptical. When Obama’s campaign began, I was no supporter. In large part, because from my skewed perspective, I didn’t believe we had it in us to elect a person of color. For too long I’ve seen the discriminatory practices of our policies play out at home and abroad. What had changed in my fellow citizens’ hearts that would cause a fundamental shift in our behavior and thinking? After all, it was the same electorate who catapulted George Bush into power, and those age-old discriminatory practices were still firmly in place. I have never been happier to be so wrong.
When I awoke that day, I pulled up King’s "I have a dream" speech and watched it on my computer. Never have those words had more meaning. I watched a few other "you-tube" videos with montages of the March on Washington. I remembered watching the original news clips and my now-deceased mother educating me as a young child about Dr. King, his struggle, and the struggle of so many Americans still waiting for their place in the sun the American Dream with full rights and participation. And there I was, a part of an unfolding of promise that this country has not witnessed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
I thought about that on the train. It was filled with happy people wearing Obama swag on their heads, ears, faces, around their necks, on coats, sweatshirts, pants, even shoelaces. The people came from all over the world, and they were everywhere on the streets of D.C. At any moment, they would break into song or begin chanting. (As I was exiting a Metro stop, the space between the turnstiles and exit escalators became jammed and the line spilled back onto the platform. Over the loudspeakers came the advice to "keep moving." Within seconds, the crowd was chanting "Keep-mov-ing! Yes-we-can! Keep-mov-ing! Yes-we-can!") It is truly an indescribable feeling to be in a crowd of over a million people, all of them happy. I think that may be what real peace feels like.
I looked around me on the train filled with smiling faces sharing stories and hopes with one another. White people engaging black people, adults engaging children, English speakers engaging German speakers. It was the way things should be. A wave of brother- and sisterhood swept over me my fellow Americans had risen to the occasion; I was very proud to sit squeezed in among them on that particular day. My skepticism had receded into the background, and my faith had been renewed. I exited the train a lot lighter in spirit.
And so it was as we filled the National Mall on Tuesday to witness the historic event all of us feeling great hope and possessing a renewed interest in our democracy. Although I was only one of a million we million were one in rejoicing in the new dawn of America.
Laura Bonham is the communications coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, the chairperson of the Summit County Democrats, and a member of the Utah Democratic Party Executive Committee. She lives in Coalville, Utah.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.