US version of people power
IN his commencement speech to his alma mater, Harrow, in 1941, Sir Winston Churchill said, "This is the lesson: never give in; never give in; never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." I recite these remarks almost every day and have come to live by their precepts, especially in times of challenge.
While I do not know if others rely on these remarks to get through tough days, I crave your indulgence in overlooking my presumptuousness in declaring that I saw the same Churchillian defiance in the faces of voters beside whom I stood in the long queue to vote in the November 6 presidential elections. The lines were noticeably longer than in 2008 – at least at the precinct where I voted. The demographic shift was noticeable too: there were more young people and immigrants than I saw last time around.
At 6 am, when the polls opened in New York, lines had already snaked their way, not once, not twice, but thrice around the huge building that housed the polling station. After standing in line for two hours, I left, but not before trading place with an elderly woman who was “fired-up” about voting. I returned at 12:40 pm. This time a good friend gave me a “spot” in the line, yet it was not until 3:30 pm that I finally voted. It was worth the wait, because 61 million Americans of mixed ancestry, socio-economic backgrounds and varied social interests resoundingly defeated fear, bigotry and ugliness.
Say what you may about democracy, particularly western democracy. It has a way of settling scores – a way that only active democracies can. Democracy thrives on people power and although we may hold different views about people power and may even downplay its impact on shaping democratic societies, we cannot, in good conscience, overlook its role in helping to shape political outcomes – good or bad. We saw enough evidence of this last Tuesday in the American elections: because despite billions of dollars being spent by super Political Action Committees to delegitimise President Obama and to deny him a second term, Obama achieved only what one other Democratic president (Roosevelt) achieved: he won both the Electoral College and a majority of the popular vote.
Yes, winning is not all, but losing can be a wonderful outcome, and wonderful indeed it was last Tuesday when Willard Mitt Romney, his political sidekick, Congressman Paul Ryan, and other Republicans received an unexpected, but proper shack lacking. The disappointment on the faces of the vanquished was too palpable to go unnoticed. The overconfident Republican potentate was so completely blown off course by the mystique and marvel of the Obama electoral machine that he almost cried.
Lest you forget, during the campaign, former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised Americans that, if elected, he would create 12 million jobs. Well, according to late night comedians, Romney was very successful in creating at least two: One for President Obama and the other for Vice President Biden; they will keep their jobs for another four years. Poor Mitt, he received a proper whipping, the likes of which hardly anyone expected.
In spite of the ferocious winds and violent tides that bellowed above and beneath Obama’s ship, it remained steadily afloat, and now it is safely anchored for four more years. Having been hoisted by their own petard, Republican apologists are now blaming the “act of God”, which meteorologists called Sandy, for Obama’s resounding victory over Mitt Romney. Obviously, the Republican Party does not get it: the Republican ship will continue adrift into irrelevance until its captains command crew members to quit the politics of exclusion and fear-mongering.
It is painfully ironic that Republicans, having accused the president of being a closeted Muslim, are now accusing God of been excessively kind to someone they desperately depicted as non-Christian, and even as the Antichrist. Well, as my Aunt Ivy was wont to say, “If God was like man, He would use their tongues to make knots so tight, that not even breeze could pass through.” The racist elements in and outside of the Republican Party gave Obama a hard time. They did everything to drive up his negatives. They did not mask their immense dislike for Obama. They made it clear that in his case he should not be judged by ideological differences or by the content of his character, but definitely by the colour of his skin.
Many southern evangelicals, religious fundamentalists and racial bigots prayed fervently for God to help them to return “whites” in the “White House”. Once again, the prayers and supplication that went up from the pews and pulpits of hate fell right back down like blankets of darkness, strong enough to confound and destroy their temples of wickedness and bigotry. “God nah sleep enuh.” Hope you heard that! The agony of defeat is never easy to manage and those who suffer defeat are more inclined to conjure up all sorts of theories and explanations for their demise without giving credence to their own follies.
President Obama cannot take anything for granted because elections have consequences. People power cuts both ways and the distance between Palm Sunday and Crucifixion Friday is like “bench and bottom”. Serious economic and social challenges remain and these will require urgent attention. The demographic construct of the voters who propelled Obama to victory speaks to the need for urgent actions on his part, particularly on immigration reform, jobs, youth employment, education and training, entitlement and pension reform, and a host of other problems such as access to education. Obama has received a mandate to govern and to lead, but above all to be as transformational as he possible can become. Undoubtedly he will, and if he does not, people power will settle the score.