An American friend sent me this, and granted me permission to publish it. Stunning.
To my friends around the world—
A week ago today, on November 4, 2008, I cast my vote for the next US president. That day I woke up at 3 in the morning in order to be at my local polling station hours before my fellow Americans cast their ballots. I volunteered and was selected to work as an Election Official in Arlington, Virginia, which is just a few kilometers outside of Washington, DC. Virginia was especially important this year since it was a battleground state in our election. I helped my fellow Virginians understand how to cast their ballots, paying special attention to the new Americans among us, including an older woman from Latin America who had just become a US citizen a month before election day. People patiently endured waiting in long lines outside my polling station and at polling stations across America, demonstrating true democracy in action.
That evening, my candidate–Barack Obama–made history by becoming President of the United States of America. In Washington, thousands of people poured into the streets in pure jubilation. Cars honked their horns for hours, firecrackers and fireworks were set off, people were spontaneously hugging one another, and crying, and laughing. It was as big a party scene as some of you may have witnessed when your country has won the World Cup, and yet how amazing was it that this massive, peaceful and joyful celebration—across Washington, across America, across the world—was not for sports, but for the election of one man to become president.
The next morning, nearly the whole city of Washington seemed to be smiling. I was in such a good mood that I could barely concentrate on work and to celebrate, treated some of my coworkers to lunch. In our nation’s capital, newspapers heralding the historic election were bought out within minutes. Instantly people talked about “Where were you when Barack Obama became president?” And this is the same city that I called my home just over 7 years ago, when it awoke to a very different day: September 11th. A city under attack, a people enveloped by fear, an event that brought great but fleeting unity to my country. On September 11th, I received notes containing well wishes and feelings of sympathy and solidarity from you, my international friends, all of which I have kept and still treasure. This week, I thank you for having sent me email after email of heartfelt congratulations on Obama’s victory, writing of your optimism for a new America.
I see the two events—even though thankfully 100% different in nature—as bookends. What happened from September 11th, 2001, to November 3, 2008, can only be described as a nightmare. A man for whom I did not vote and whom I have never respected took over my country. He already did much damage—for example, to the cause of the environment by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol—before September 11th, but after that terrible day, he and his cronies took over full power and corrupted what I loved about my country. Self-censorship of the press began in earnest. He divided the nation and the world into “us versus them.” Everything was black and white, and those who viewed the world in shades of gray and nuance were considered heretics. Any criticism of the administration—no matter how well-justified—was viewed as blasphemy. Questions were shunned; unfettered loyalty was exalted.
As I traveled abroad, I found that Iraq and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib had become symbols of America, taking over from positive associations with American music and movies and the land of opportunity. Rather than being cool to be American overseas—which I delighted in during the 1990’s—it now had an undeniable stigma attached. Even though I knew that there were millions of Americans who, like me, continued to believe strongly in human rights, environmental protection, income equality and the like, the rest of the world appeared to see just one man and one nation. It pained me greatly.
I feel now that we have come out of the darkness and into the light. The eight-year-long nightmare is over. It is time to take back our country and show a new face of America to the world. The road will be long and steep to climb, for America and the international community are in terrible shape, not least of all financially. But if anyone can take on the task of putting America back together, it is Barack Obama. He is brilliant and hard-working. He is even-tempered and rational. He has struggled and thus has empathy for those who struggle. His background is diverse and complicated, like so many of his fellow Americans and citizens of the world. He is not the son of privilege, like so many presidents before him, but rather a self-made man—a true embodiment of the “American dream.” And he surrounds himself with people of great talent and solid judgment. I will share with you a short story to illustrate this fact.
Almost four years ago, I was shopping in a store near where I live. I heard a very clear, matter-of-fact voice talking on his mobile phone in the aisle next to me. “Why do you think you should work for me?” the voice queried quizzically. “What is your experience and skills, what can you bring to my team?” I turned the corner to see Barack Obama, all by himself running a quick errand, as was possible in those days when he first arrived in Washington as the junior Senator from Illinois. I stood behind him in line to make my purchases, aware that I stood behind a great man—for his 2004 speech just months before to the Democratic National Convention had left me in speechless admiration—but not imagining that I stood behind the next US president. That anecdote was more telling than I could have known at the time, for Obama hires people not based on blind loyalty or campaign donations, but based on competence. He is assembling a first-class team to tackle the problems that face us, a team that challenges him to ask the right questions. I have hopes that Obama will end the war in Iraq, close Guantanamo, and finally bring universal healthcare to America. Many of you have asked and no worries–my job will not be affected by this change in administration, I am a US government employee and dedicated public servant for life if I so choose. But I will serve this president and his new administration with renewed pride and enthusiasm.
Suffice to say: today is a new day for America and a new day for the world.