Today Americans are safer than they have been since 2001. The power of our ideals and our ability to act on those ideals are the weapons of the spirit that have just made us more secure.
The world watched this election. While we here in Chicago were dancing in Grant Park, people on every continent danced with us. They celebrated with us because the reality of our democracy belongs not only to us, but also to the world. And when we seemed to lose our democratic ideals, the world despaired.
Nations like individuals have spirits; they even have souls. I do not believe that the soul is an ineffable something, what is called the “ghost in the machine.” I believe that both for individuals and nations, the soul is your ability to have transcendent ideals and make your actions match your expressed values. Ordinary speech confirms this. When someone says, “he sold his soul for a Porsche,” what they mean is, “he abandoned his values and took the cash.”
In the last years we have sold our national soul to the devil. We sold our soul in waging preemptive war based on lies, in adopting torture as policy, and we sold our souls for greed based on creating debt and selling it. We soul our souls long ago when we made buying and selling persons of African descent legal; we still have far to go on delivering on the full promise of equality for all Americans. Gay Americans did not fare well yesterday in ballot initiatives designed to deny them their civil rights. This is clear evidence we still have a long way to go.
But the election of Barack Obama, the son of an African father and a white mother from Kansas was another step in the right direction. Yesterday’s presidential election was about whether there is an American ideal that is worthy of the name. We started back down the road of making our actions match our ideals more closely.
This is what is now being called “sustainable security.” The basis of the sustainable security idea is that long-term peace is a product of both economic well-being and the freedom of citizens from fear of violence.
War and the threat of war do not actually make people safer. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the United States less safe, not more. Violence begets violence until the world descends into chaos and darkness. As Dr. King taught, this is weakness, not strength. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”
President-elect Obama is right, this election was not just about him, it was about us as a people and whether we can believe in our national ideals and act on them. It is also an election about the world and how we want to live together rather than annihilate one another in spasms of fear.
Last night in Grant Park here in Chicago, we danced, we wept and we called out, “Yes, we can.” And the world replied, “Then together, we can.” God bless the peoples of the world and this one planet that we share.