Yes, We Did

After an incredible two days in which I’ve slept for a grand total of two hours, I finally reach the end of the road.

It’s been a stunning moment, one which I think I feel I ought to acknowledge for historical purposes. This was the moment that America woke up and at last picked the candidate that wasn’t the folksiest, wasn’t the one trying to scare you into submission, but actually is articulate, intelligent and conducts himself with great dignity.

The speech Barack Obama gave this morning at 4am my time was, without doubt, the best speech I have ever heard in my life. It hit every note perfectly: soaring, inspirational rhetoric, with an exceptional narrative and even better, almost sermon-like refrain of “Yes, we can”. The resonance this speech will have throughout history should not be underestimated. Obama knows how good he is at this stuff, and always knows how to rise to the occasion. This time he knew this speech would be pored over by history students for centuries to come: so he made sure he left them something to remember him by!

Even if Obama ultimately struggles with the task at hand, and who wouldn’t with his unenviable in-tray, there is no doubt in my mind that he will always be able to find the right words at the right time to rally people to his cause and try to invoke some good faith.

I stayed up the whole night biting my fingernails. It wasn’t over until it was over. Which was basically when Ohio was called for Obama, and that was when I knew we were on the verge of something very special indeed. In the end, I was actually disappointed that Obama didn’t get more votes than he did, or come with longer coat tails (some Senate election results were a bit disappointing); it seems that turnout on the West Coast didn’t match the heights on the East Coast. And some Obama safe states (e.g. NY) didn’t feel the need to go all out and be part of the moment. I dunno about you, but if I lived in NY, even though I know the result for my state is a foregone conclusion, I would want to be able to say to my children and future generations that I was there casting my vote to change the course of American history.

In the end I could take no more and had to go to bed at 6:30am. I had a couple of hours sleep and got back to the computer to keep an eye on the results. I’m obsessive about this kind of thing. I just want more and more data. I thought to myself that it’s quite lucky I don’t have a job right now, or else I wouldn’t have been able to indulge so much in absorbing all the material surrounding this US election.

And what a fabulous election it has been. I’ve been following it all year, and following Obama himself since 2004, and now all of a sudden the election is over.

In its place is the beginning of the struggle. The hard work begins now for the USA. I can only dream that one day Britain will achieve a leader of the same caliber as Obama, one who creates a new movement and mobilises an entire apathetic generation from their slumber. Because I think that’s what we’re waiting for, but we can’t do it alone.

It really is a privilege to have witnessed the events of the past two days. I know I will never forget them. As “Yes, we can” morphs into “Yes, we did”, the election of Barack Obama will forever serve as a powerful lesson that together anything is possible.

Yes, we can. Yes, we will. Yes, we did.

Yes, we must.

The world is waiting.

Our Moment Is Now

Of all the slogans that the Obama campaign has, “Our Moment Is Now” is probably my favourite. It encapsulates the feeling of America, if not the world, that it’s time for a change, and that it is a new generation that will be making it. At least, that is my reading of the current situation. Can nearly 200 polls be wrong and there is a McCain “surge” waiting in the wings, undetected by dozens of polls over the past several weeks?

No. I’m feeling pretty confident about it. And to celebrate, I will be staying up all night tonight and following the coverage. The coverage is, of course, not very good here in the UK, unless you have Sky television, and receive all the US news channels. Tonight, I will have to suffer the BBC and ITV coverage. Hopefully, there will be no Jeremy Vine making a total prick of himself. Bring back Peter Snow, that’s what I say.

So a very long night is in prospect. I usually do this to myself every election night, US, UK and even the Italian election that put Romano Prodi back in power, because I wanted to see Silvio Berlusconi go down in flames. Though he did, it didn’t last very long, such is the nature of Italian politics, and now the corrupt “Il Cavaliere” is back in power.

But this one holds so much significance to me.  Probably more than the UK election will next time around. To me, I hope this is the evidence of a generational shift in politics. I hope it is going to prove to us that there is going to be a change in the way politics is conducted, away from the tired old priorities of the past, towards re-engaging society via grassroots organisation. This kind of narrative slots very neatly into American history – because the USA is built so strongly upon local organisation anyway – but I suspect it will not take root here. We are suspicious of localism in this country, preferring instead to take our direction from politicians hundreds of miles away in London.

I have pinned a lot of hopes to Obama, and I know many of them will be dashed. I talked about this last time I wrote about him. But nevertheless, he is still the perfect candidate for these times. I want to believe, I really do, and have allowed myself to be swept away with the hype, just this once.

And so that is why tonight I feel there is so much at stake. I love politics, and I love elections even more, but normally I view them with a critical distance. There is not too much difference between the parties in the UK any more, so it doesn’t really matter that much.

This time, however, I detect a large difference between Obama and McCain. With that in mind, there is only one possible candidate for me to support. And I have to go all in with my support, because any other result would be a disaster, not just for me personally, but I believe the USA and hence the rest of the world will suffer.

If I was an American, today I would be doing everything I could to get out the vote. I would be knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, making phone calls, whatever. This means so much to me, and it means so much to the rest of the world too.

There is a lot riding on American shoulders today. I know they are up to the challenge. I know some of them don’t like Johnny Foreigner getting involved in their politics either. But the only reason we do is because it matters a great deal to us. It affects our lives too. We want to have a say on that, only we can’t.

How do you think that feels to feel so powerless, helpless, disconnected, unable to do anything about the changing circumstances of the world, Unable to have a say on changing the direction of travel?

Americans should feel very privileged that they have, in their hands, one method of changing the world. I beg of you, on behalf of the rest of the planet, please, don’t waste it.

A Political Week

Rather than continuing the job hunt, I have spent most of this week reading political articles, digesting endless blog comments and watching many speeches from politicos across the USA. I might as well make good use of the endless free time I’ve got right now, after all.

And the timing has been perfect, because, naturally, this has been the week of the Democratic National Convention. As a political junkie, something like this is unmissable. This time four years ago I spent an equal amount of time watching the speeches from that (courtesy of the awesome C-SPAN) – and one in particular impressed me.

Yeah yeah, we all know about Barack Obama’s stunning oratical masterpiece four years ago. I watched it at the time and thought – and this is the honest truth – that this man ought to be the next Democratic presidential candidate after Kerry. It was moving and powerful. I have never heard anything so good since, and I doubt I ever will. I feel pretty smart that I jumped on the bandwagon four years ago, a long time before others. And certainly a long time before almost everyone in the UK.

But with that speech four years ago in mind, Obama was never likely to reach those heights. And so, wisely, he picked a different tack, to give the speech more content and more red meat. It worked. And the final third delivered the rhetorical soar that all good speeches ought to finish with.

On balance I would give it an 8.5/10 when compared with all his speeches I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). 10/10 goes to the DNC 2004 speech; and 10/10 to his “A More Perfect Union” intelligent brilliance of a few months back. But in terms of whether it was the right speech, at the right moment, it truly nailed it. In the context of the election, and using an American analogy, he hit the ball right out of the park.

Why do I share all this on a personal blog? Well, largely because an enormous part of me is dictated by the way I feel politically. It would be foolish to deny that my politics has no impact on my outlook of life. In many respects, it is to my shame that it has the impact it does, mainly because British politics has left me so cynical and jaded at the tender age of 23.

But somehow, just this once, I’ve allowed myself to get carried away with the optimism. When American politics is at its finest, optimism and positivity is the thing it does the best in the world. Maybe it will turn out in the future that we’ve all pinned our enormous expectations to Obama, something which he will never be able to live up to. And so we’re all setting ourselves up for a very big fall when reality crashes in.

Just this time, however, I’m willing to believe. But the message of Obama is far more than just what he can achieve. In fact, I would argue that, if Obama is successful, it will not be because he personally made certain actions that delivered certain positive results.

It will be because he convinces people that they must be the agent of their own change, not the government, not politicians or anyone else. That politics is not about top-down. It’s about the community, it’s about high aspiration, it’s about hard work and passion for your cause.

This is why I have a lot of time for the Obama message. It is one of personal empowerment, and that is extremely liberating.

So in many respects it appeals to me personally. It is a message that I could easily apply to myself. That I must stop wallowing in self-pity, wondering where did it all go wrong, but instead to embrace the situation and turn it towards my own hopes and dreams. To put in more effort and to aspire to achieve something bigger than what I was originally aiming for.

While it’s been a fun week politically, it’s been a challenging one personally. What should my next step be? I can but dream…