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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Let's Go Change The World!

You must bear with me today. The last five days have flown by with the speed and vividness of a fever dream, and I am still attempting to catch my breath.

Friday morning I was in a Rome airport on layover from my honeymoon. After seventeen days abroad, I longed to be back in the States amongst my people, amongst the things I knew. That evening I was at a Chicago Italian restaurant with my wife and parents. My father brought my attention to the television, where I saw the man above. I recognized the man instantly. He is to my life as permanent a fixture of what home is as Lower Wacker Drive or a boiled Vienna dog on a sesame seed bun. The next morning I found out that man had died.

The man is Studs Terkel and he loved America-all of America- in ways few ever have. He had a show on WFMT in the evenings and through him I learned about Walt Whitman, jazz, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Great Depression, and why they call it the blues. Through his books I took a crash course in political science, reading the words of people from every area of our country, from every class, creed, and color.

More important, though, is what Studs stood for- an active American past where the greatest excitement came from civic action. His was an experience of speaking at Bughouse Square, shouting at union meetings, and toasting strangers in smoky clubs. His community was wider than a land between the great oceans. His community was all of us.

Studs lived through two world wars. He hustled through the Great Depression. He was spit on during civil rights marches. Through all of this, all of this, he never doubted once that we should end this American experiment. He knew you had to have skin in the game to make it all work. You can't let the next guy pick up the tab. You heard it in his voice every broadcast. "We shall overcome these differences," he would say.

Studs would be over the moon today.

Last night, Barack Obama became the 44th President of these United States, and the first black one. I watched the election returns at a near-by bar. The surrounding streets sung with electricity. At the bar, there were a group of West Indians watching the returns. There were a couple of guys from Bosnia. There were tables full of white kids. Every state that went blue was met with a thunder of applause. When the result came final, we hugged. We kissed. We cried. It was a shared national experience I had never known- the anti 9/11. You didn't want to go home.

And the world woke up changed.

What got us to last night was what Studs was all about. Corporations and agents of prejudice did not elect Obama, we did. The American people did. We as a country stood up and said, "Enough!" We did it through unions. We did it over the internet. We did it over coffee at diners and in breakrooms. After eight years of misrule and how many more years of shared apathy, we rediscovered our own power. We renewed the civic bonds that make this country a living thing.

Let us stay vigilant. A night that saw one maligned minority victorious, also saw the majority take away minority rights in California. America will always be an experiment. The minute any of us take any of this for granted is the minute our experiment fails. In Egypt, I walked amongst a people who lived under the boot heel of oppression. Thousands of armed guards walk their streets night and day. Their middle class live in a degree of filth you wouldn't see in our ghettoes. Their votes are suppressed, their voices imprisoned. America is a truly wonderful idea. We make it a reality when we stay involved. You can't own what you don't use. For eight long years, we have been used. Last night we took America back. Let us never give it away again.

Celebrate this. Don't forget how we feel. Later-think, pray, meditate. We have come a long way, baby.

And read. Yes, you can read quite a bit about this historic moment today. Newsweek begins a seven -part series on the campaign. Six years ago, the New Republic wrote about the inevitable new Democratic majority.

FoxNews, a prime vehicle of our past divisive habits, announces for Obama, and Juan Williams takes his token ball and and scores.

I leave you with this.

Thank you, Studs. Thank you, America.

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