07 November, 2008

Yes we can!

This week I had the privilege of being in New York for the Presidential election. I stood with thousands of others at Rockefeller Center and watched as Senator Obama became President Elect Obama. It was a surreal moment in many ways, and one that became more special as the night edged closer to becoming a significant historic event. As an Australian, truly unimpressed by the charismatic ways of American political culture (well, except in The West Wing!), I thought that the hype would more likely nauseate than inspire. I was wrong. The people surrounding me were not in some euphoric bubble of superficial glee. They were not being pushed by an emotional current into a Hollywood happy ending. The people around me were intense and braced for change. The crowd was well aware of the importance of this moment in their history and they were ready to celebrate not just the moment, but the reality of the change that is coming.

What a massive achievement, not just for Obama, or his campaign staff, but for the American people as a whole who chose to embrace him. Why is it so impressive? Because when I walk around New York, everywhere I go I see minorities in low-skilled work or on the street. They seem to dominate the low-paid workforce, and that’s one thing you don’t want to win. Why is this relevant? First, because there is clearly an acceptance of this as a reality. So while we may think it is totally normal for a minority to be President, and that discrimination is just something of the 60s, I assume this country still has a way to go in accepting minorities as equals on an everyday level. Second, any minority that can break through the (glass ceiling is too nice a term) electrified cages that they have been structurally placed in by society and essentially government, deserves the utmost respect. So for a minority to take office in America, it has taken not just the determination of Obama, but the acceptance of a new direction and a new reality for the American people. Now don’t get me wrong, I still heard some dreadfully racist comments bandied about the crowd. There will be many obstacles and much soul searching I am sure. But this is the start of something amazing in this country. Something (and it has been said often this week) I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime.

It is easy for us to sit in Australia and point the finger at America as being a land of many contradictions. However, are we close to having a minority as our Prime Minister? Are we concerned that much of our population is still largely discriminatory? And what are you doing to change it? Are you championing the cause of the Indigenous? Helping them break through the obstacles stacked up upon them? We might not be as loud or as visual as America in our racism, but don’t forget about the wide acceptance of Pauline Hansen, or the fact that our social statistics may not reflect what we think we are as a nation. (See previous blogs on Indigenous incarceration for more on that) Or how about within The Salvation Army? How many minorities do we have in serious leadership in Australia? My intension is not to beat up Australia or to champion America. My point is simply this. Change is going to keep coming and we are going to have to continually reflect on and challenge our current values and beliefs about how society should function. You, individually or collectively, may not be able to hold onto your dominance and may start to lose some of your privilege as this world changes. But that’s ok! Because what we are trying to achieve is actual equality and not patriarchal good will.

In this current economic climate it seems that everyone is going to lose something. But the question is, will you hold onto what you have for dear life, or will you acknowledge that the time to share our wealth and our opportunities with all segments of the population has come? Can we accept the changes that are coming, and start to reform society? Yes we can!

A more level headed and less passionate blog next week, I promise! And as Danielle said in the previous blog, please take the time to consider the other massive stuff that is going on in our world today. And remember, what people didn’t think was attainable 30 years ago just happened. That should give us some hope for peace and security in Africa, something that seems so unattainable today.


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