Grant Park 1968 - in the heart of Chicago. Grant Park -- where my friends and I were gassed and beaten - terrified and abused - during the Democratic Convention in 1968. Grant Park - haunted by so much.
Here's how I remembered it on the 40th anniversary this summer:
I wonder if you can imagine what it felt like to be 22 years old, totally idealistic and what they call "a true believer" and to see policemen behave like that. To see Chicago Mayor Richard Daley call the first Jewish Senator, Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut, a "kike" (you had to read his lips - there was no audio but it was pretty clear) and to see your friends, and colleagues, and some-time beloveds with black eyes and bleeding scalps. To be dragged by a Secret Service agent from your place next to Senator McCarthy by the collar of your dress as he addressed the demonstrators, battered, bruised and angry. To see everything you'd worked for and believed in decimated in the class, generational and political warfare.
Why does this matter, you ask? Because, this moment - 40 years later -- as Barack Obama assumed the leadership of our country with such an elegant speech, informed and supported in part by the values, and people, who fought, bled and wept through those awful days and by a majority of those as young now as we were then and just as committed to the vision they've been offered and by an enormous, excited turnout, black and white, -- he did so on this same site, in the shadow of the Hilton where we put all the kids with broken heads -- and tried to keep the tear gas out of our eyes. We've been haunted by that time for so long, and as far as I can tell, this was an exorcism. As I heard a commentator say this morning: "The culture wars are over. The Vietnam War is over." And not a moment too soon.
What's happening is far larger of course. Yesterday morning we voted in our lovely DC neighborhood, middle class, well-kept, bikes and an excellent walk-to-it elementary school, so of course there was a long line waiting to vote in a riot of autumn color. We stood for two hours even though Washington would clearly choose Obama, (and did so with 92% of our votes.) Each individual vote wasn't urgently needed. Instead, it was the need to cast the vote that was urgent.
Diverse in age and history, largely African-American, our community stood together, talking, laughing, meeting new friends in front of or behind us in line. People had their kids with them, called grown kids on the phone from line and waved at late-arriving neighbors. It was one of those moments where you feel history all around you, and a remarkable privilege to be voting in such company, who've worked through all the years of discord to maintain a civil, multicultural community. A bonus.
Beyond this landmark day, though, the next months are going to be tough. As the new White House staff, cabinet and administration form, all this free-floating joy will take on concrete forms that remind us of the huge challenges and risks that face us. There will be things that disappoint us, and things that make us mad. The reality that caused people to elect this man will descend upon us in a relentless economic, social, military and persona avalanche and we may be hard-pressed to remember the joy we felt last night; the promise that has so engaged us.
When that happens, I will think of the older African-American man who called out "shalom" to us in the canvassing orientation when he saw my friend's yarmulke, of the excited first-voters -- just 18 or newly naturalized -- whom we met as we walked through one Virginia housing complex after another, of our four-year-old door-bell-ringer beside himself over "Obama" and asking everyone from the supermarket checker to his teachers to vote for him, of my sons last night calling and texting literally across a continent and an ocean, of the day I was electrified by the broadcast of Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, of the fact that 66% of under-30 voters, so long detached and cynical*, voted for Obama, and, finally, of the distance we have to go - and won't -- unless we work together to resolve each challenge and, perhaps more importantly, each disagreement.
This is a great day. And a scary one. And now, as our new president-elect prepares to do his part, we have to resolve to do ours: to work through those disappointments and disagreements, to accept the call to contribute and to sacrifice and, as he and Abraham Lincoln before him asked us, to heed to the "better angels of of our nature." They're there - and we're going to need them. If they can show up, and Barack Obama can show up, so can we.
* (speaking of younger voters): A friend of my sons (a third son, really) sent me this from one of his favorite blogs. It's just so sweet.