Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Hussein Obama

Tuesday undoubtedly marked an historic day for the United States of America - and for all the other citizens of this planet. Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th - and first non-white - president of the USA. I must confess that we were riveted to the television for most of the day as we watched the spectacle unfold.

While we sat comfortably in our home on the socially progressive West Coast of Canada, our appreciation of this unlikely inauguration was heightened by our recent internship at Koinonia Farm in Southern Georgia. Koinonia had been established in 1942 as a Christian statement against the racial exploitation of the deep South. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Koinonians had to survive bombings, gunshots, beatings and economic boycotts for standing up against socially-sanctioned and religiously -sanctified apartheid policies. While things have certainly improved, and this black mark on the gleaming history of America seems a part of the distant past, we were constantly reminded of its lingering effects.

During our time in Georgia, we became close friends with men and women who grew up in a world where it wasn’t safe to be seen in public with Whites - especially of the opposite sex. They couldn’t eat at the same table, drink from the same water fountain or even use the same public toilets. They remembered friends who simply disappeared and were never seen again - except for the rumors of unidentified remains found in the woods along the highway. As children, they would lay awake in their beds at night, terrified that the KKK would break down their door and take them - or their parents - away. As teen-agers they faced the angry mob when the national guard enforced the integration of public schools and as young adults they marched in protests. In spite of all the progress, shadows of this dark time still linger today. A clear example of this is the case of Troy Anthony Davis, who was convicted of murder in 1991. In spite of the fact that there was no physical evidence and the eyewitnesses later recanted their testimonies, Troy has spent the past 19 years on death row in Georgia. He came within hours of execution this past October - and a majority of Georgia supreme court judges still feels justified in executing him - as opposed to hearing the evidence that will prove his innocence. Could this ever happen to a White guy?

This backdrop of unbelievable racial injustice made Barack Obama’s presidency all the more unlikely. During the election campaign, we volunteered with Sumter for Change - the Democratic campaign organization in Sumter county - and helped voters get to the polls. We had the privilege of door-knocking along side black civil rights veterans who shared their stories of the bad, old days. Apparently the most dangerous thing you could do was to help other blacks register for the vote. Even in the the enlightened 21st Century, we found that fraudulent voter information cards had been regularly given to blacks - and these cards directed them all the way across town to the wrong polling station. Or “official” phone calls were made to remind them that only Whites voted on Tuesday (election day) - Blacks couldn’t vote until Wednesday!

Amazingly, and in spite of these odds, Barack Obama not only received enough votes to win the Presidency of the United States, he also carried Sumter County, Georgia!

The picture on the right shows the scene that occurred in the backroom of Wood’s Swinging Wings - also known as Sumter County Democratic campaign HQ - the very moment that Obama was declared president.

Now you can see why I still believe in miracles.

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