What’s Left – The Battle Is Not Won

When Barack Obama was declared President-elect on Tuesday night, I joined millions of other Americans in celebration.? For the first time in eight years, the voice of progressive America was realized by the actions of the American electorate. In Barack Obama we find hope, the possibility for a renewed America and the opportunity to achieve greater equality in our humanity. When we voted on Tuesday, we elected a new President and called for a new America.?

The Democratic Party can finally claim the White House, as well as majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the feeling of elation will continue for weeks and months to come, we must not lose site of what we fought for. Progressive voices can claim victory in red and blue states alike; unfortunately, the battle for equality was lost elsewhere.? ?

The state constitutions of Arizona, California and Florida were permanently inscribed with hate when propositions banning same-sex marriage were passed. The state constitution of Arkansas will now carry a clause banning gay and lesbian people from adopting children, no matter how qualified they may be. And in Nebraska, a ballot proposition calling for the end of affirmative action was passed, further hindering the dream of an equitable American heartland. ?

As I explored the blogosphere in the hours following the election, I was troubled with what I read; bloggers from all walks of life suggesting that the election of a black president marked an end to racism in America. Rational thought suggests that this claim is wrong, but the very existence of such a supposition is a blaring directive for the work ahead.?Centuries ago, our founding fathers penned a constitution with the purpose of protecting the rights of the American people, not limiting them. I find it rather profound that a group of old white men — many of whom may have struggled to imagine an America that could elect a black president — had the foresight to construct a document with the singular purpose of protecting — not removing — our rights. ?

In February of 2008, months before Senator Obama secured the Democratic nomination, he addressed thousands of his supporters on Super Tuesday in Chicago. It was here that he delivered perhaps the most famous speech of his campaign and very poignantly suggested that “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” When Senator Obama emerged as the Democratic nominee in June, it was this idea, first spoken on that cold night in February, which gave me confidence in his nomination and his innate ability to understand the landscape of the American people. ?

When Americans showed up to the polls in record numbers on Tuesday, they proved to be the “ones” Senator Obama alluded to months prior. This electorate, unprecedented in size presented Senators Obama and Biden with a mandate from Americans — Americans of many races, of many religions, of my many ethnicities and with many dreams — to serve.

We should not fool ourselves and try to suggest that one election will single-handedly reshape the future of America. Our work as progressive voices in America has just begun.? Although millions of Americans came out in support of Senators Obama and Biden, there are millions of people in communities across America who voted otherwise. If we truly believe in what Senator Obama stands for, then it is our responsibility to find a voice within our democracy for all Americans, not just those who stood with us on November 4. You see, for so many of us, the ballot we cast on Tuesday was for more than just a new President; it was a call for a new, and more equitable America.?

If we walk away now, and assume that our civic responsibilities have passed, then we’ve done a disservice to the millions of Americans who woke up hopeful on November 5. It is now that we begin to ask the most difficult questions. How is it that a state which is as markedly liberal as California voted to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens? How do we continue to tackle major issues of racism in America when some people consider racism a bygone, simply because we have elected a black president? How do we balance the priorities of healthcare, education, the war in Iraq, social security and the economy with such a diverse electorate, facing so many unique concerns??

The answers to these questions are far from simple; nonetheless, the starting point should not be difficult to find. Over the past few months, I have witnessed a Colgate student body more involved and interested then ever before.? Across the nation, we have seen an American citizenry more passionate than in years past. The next steps towards realizing the change that we believe Senator Obama will lead us toward should not be energized simply by one election, but instead be the continued project of millions of engaged citizens. November 4, 2008, and all that it entails, marks the beginning — not the end — of the battle for change and the realization of equality in America. As Senator Obama suggested, America’s been waiting and we’re finally here.