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February - March 2009
Dreams can come True
by Nisha Chopra
I am not a US Citizen. I have no relatives in the US. Frankly I have no affiliation to the US what so ever, but as an aspiring journalist something or someone compelled me to be a part of a historic event.
On Tuesday 4th November 2008, I witnessed the most historic election for any modern democracy. The election of the first black President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. Standing amidst a huge crowd in Chicago Grant Park, I saw Mr. Obama declare that; ‘Change has come to America.’
Day one: The eve of the election
‘Please state your reasons for visiting the US’ Business or pleasure? How about to watch history in the making? As I landed in Chicago there was an air of strangeness. It was just one day before the election and no one had anything left to say about it. By now you was either voting for McCain or Obama or undecided. The undecided votes were the most fearful for the Obama camp, as most political analysts believed they would go to McCain. As always jet lag got the better of me so I fell asleep listening to CNN pundits discuss every possible electoral outcome in all 50 states.
Day two: Judgement day
Despite not being able to vote, I felt that it was my duty to get the vote out. As I logged on to my laptop to check my emails, I’m welcomed with messages from MyObama webpage giving me a list of where I can volunteer to campaign for Obama. My first point of call was a suburban phonebank in Montrose Avenue. I distinctly remember arriving at the centre and declaring that I am a UK citizen who has flown here to help Barack Obama become the next president of America. Don’t get me wrong I felt like a right prat once I said it, but like true Americans they all cheered with someone triggering a standing ovation. I immediately felt right at home and was given a calling sheet and script by one of the Obamaphiles. My duty was to call people in the area reminding them that today was Election Day and where their nearest polling station was. Most people I called had already voted, but there was one guy I called who said, ‘I’m going to vote just because you sound so sweet.’ Well every little helps I guess! After a few hours we moved on to Obama’s main campaign headquarters downtown. It was here where the voting machine was based, churning out Obama supporters like a production line. However these supporters were not indoctrinated or brain washed with radical rhetoric. They were real people, people who had never voted before but believed that Obama could change America and give back their jobs, health care, housing and economy.
The get-out-the-vote machine was bigger, faster and smarter than McCain’s, but better yet it was Obama’s online website which revolutionised the face of political campaigning. Supporters were able to arrange to knock on specific doors in their neighbourhood, download information about which party they belong to. They were able to chat on the website with like-minded people, watch the candidate’s speeches and upload their own Barack-related videos. It was the dedication of the supporters which made the campaign such a well-oiled machine and it showed the true workings of a modern representative democracy.
The campaign was by no means burnt out, but the time had come to pull the plug and see if Obama could breathe with the heart of the American people. From my hotel I walked up to Grant Park, where the election results were to take place. The crowd was growing by the second, but luckily I found a nice spot to set up camp. The atmosphere was truly electric, with screens the size of houses broadcasting the historic event. As polling stations closed the results were coming in fast, painting the eyes of the supporters in blue. Obama was storming out in front of McCain winning state after swing state. Even so it had become clear when rumours from the McCain camp in Phoenix suggested that they had turned off their CNN reports that victory was in the horizon.
Six hours had passed and the final results were coming through. People started standing up getting ready to hear who was to be declared the next president. There was some pushing and shoving to get to the front and one man stepped right on my sister’s foot. She wasn’t impressed at all, but as I looked up to give the man a grunt of my disapproval, I realised that the man was Jesse Jackson. In shock I stuttered an apology but Mr. Jackson ran off to the front. Nevertheless the excitement of what was to come dampened any star struck feelings.
At the stroke of midnight Barack Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, shattered more than 200 years of history by winning election as the first African-American president of the United States. The crowds were jubilant, the fists in the air were victorious, and the tears were full of hope and happiness.
If there was a top ten for the world’s greatest speeches, Obama’s would have a good chance of winning that too. “If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer, “ Obama declared.
Obama’s win was momentous on electoral and ancestral lines, beating McCain by six points in the popular vote 52% to 46% and 190 votes in the Electoral College.
Day three: It’s a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feeling bad?
There was a real sense of victory amidst the streets of Chicago, but that was clouded by feelings of apprehension. Voters had done their job and now they wanted the President-Elect to start his.
You can imagine the campaign graph had reached its climax and analysts now waited to see if there would be a drop in popular support or a steady stream. I myself questioned this very article as many may read this and consider that I am a deluded idealist, who was sucked into the Obamania vacuum. However do not be fooled I am a typical journalist filled with cynicism and incredibly critical. However my trip to Chicago made me realise that solely relying on policies like we do in Britain, doesn’t make us more politically affluent. If anything the very principles, family morals, hope and change that Obama used as the backbone of his campaign are the very polices we lack in British politics. Our country suffers from a binge drinking, teenage pregnancy and knife culture, which feels alienated to vote and believe in the very system and politicians that are suppose to provide and protect its people. If you cannot trust the politicians you vote for to be in Government, how can you expect to trust them to give you policies for which you will be happy to abide by?
Now I’m not saying that Obama will have all the answers and I’m also not trying to paint a Messiah like picture of him, but now that he has built a trust with the American nation, he has the moral legitimacy to work for his nation. Undoubtedly he faces the worst economic crisis since the Depression, growing unemployment, a health care in shambles as well as international pressure as the war in Gaza continues. Nonetheless the team in which he is to present to the White House is not far from the very A-team of the 80’s, but B.A Baracus is definitely played by Hilary Clinton, despite the skin-tone.
His tax cuts and infrastructure spending is already facing criticisms from many Democrats as well as Republicans, who believe massive spending is not the answer. Who knows what the answer is? Do you let the companies fail to bring regeneration and spend in new businesses, or do you save the old companies like Prime Minister Gordon Brown is doing? What we do know is having economists like Tim Geithner on your team, who was instrumental in shaping the US government’s response to the banking crisis, creates well-thought out decisions rather than just using trial and error methods.
Mr. Obama also has to deal with the repercussions of the war in Gaza. We know that he is predominantly pro-Israel, however if he is to create dialogue diversions in the Middle East and renew lost relations, Obama will have to at least acknowledge the bullying nature of the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people.
Until then we wait inauguration day on January 20 When a family born from ancestral slaves will enter the White House and finally rid the tortured relationship of race that America has grappled with for centuries. Obama has already shown that he is eager to start his presidency and I truly hope that he is able to withstand the political and economical turbulence that the world is currently suffering from.