The Day After: Reflections on an Improbable Victory




2:30 PM, Flying over Death Valley


I am en route to San Francisco and am thinking about what happened last night.  An African-American made history.  Or perhaps I should say the people made history.  His acceptance speech was moving, the say the least, reminding me of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy

brothers, John and Robert.  Tears of emotion filled the eyes of the thousands that gathered in Grant Park in Chicago.  Cameras showed pure joy and not just from Chicago, but from all over the world as we got glimpses of how people in other countries were reacting.  His

message of “hope” and “Yes we can” echoed loud and clear.


Right-wing pundits were at least momentarily silenced and the GOP was scratching their collective heads wondering what had happened. What happened was something called “Democracy.”  People turned out to vote in record numbers as millions voted for the first time in their

 lives. (I later learned that the overall percentage who voted was about the same as in 2004, but this fact does not detract from what happened, since it was also true that millions of African-American and Latino voters cast their ballots for the first time.) 


It can also be seen as a victory for the young, as there was an almost perfect correlation between age and who people voted for: the younger the age, the more likely the vote was for Obama.  It was as if a torch was passed along to a new generation tired of corruption, greed and

 war.  Also, it seemed as if it was the 1960s all over again.


Obama closed his emotional speech with a refrain that marked his climb to the presidency.  YES WE CAN!!  The audience kept repeating the phrase as he repeated it several times during his closing remarks.  The message was one of hope in a land that forgot what this

meant.  Tears rolled down the eyes of people in the audience, including Jessie Jackson and Oprah Winfree and even in the living room where we watched this event unfold. 


My feeling as I write this is that right now we don’t need to worry about what his administration will be able to do in the first few months or even during his first term in office.  Let the moment sink in.  Allow the positive forces flow.  Tomorrow can wait.


8PM, San Francisco


Symbolic of what has happened was the presence of a young couple sitting in the row behind me on the plane with Obama hats and tee-shirts. They helped make this happen more than those of my generation.  It was their victory more than mine.  They have their whole life in

front of them.  As we started to get off the plane I said to them “Yes We Can” and we pumped our fists.  A young man sitting to my right said “Yes We Did.” 


As I waited to pick up my bag there were several people with various kinds of Obama clothing and signs.  As I talked to one group (members of a union) one of them gave me a button that read: “Unite Here for Obama.” 




8AM, San Francisco


As I prepare to leave this great city I am reflecting on the previous week.  I was here to, among other things, promote a new book that I had a hand in writing.  Jim Palombo, an ex-con whom I met while he was in a Southern Nevada prison back in 1978, has just published an

autobiography. The title is: Criminal to Critic: Reflections Amid the American Experiment (Roman and Littlefield).  He spends a lot of the time talking about what he sees as a conflict between capitalism and democracy and whether or not they can coexist. As we discussed the

book at a local radio station, Delancey Street (a famous rehabilitation center for ex-cons) and a class at San Francisco State, the subject invariably came around to the election.  Both of us commented on how the election of Obama may open up some doors previously shut

tight during the Bush administration and allow us to explore options in the juvenile and criminal justice area.  I was reminded of a line in the film An American President where Michael J. Fox says to Michael Douglas (who plays the role of President of the United States) that as

long as the ratings are so high “let’s take this for a ride and see how far we can go” (referring to a proposed crime bill).


As I think about some of the things discussed while in San Francisco (including discussions with my good friend Dan Macallair, the director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) I keep what Fox said to Douglas in that movie.  We have a new president who has filled us

with a lot of hope and a democratic majority in both the Senate and the Congress.  Let’s take this for a ride and see how far we can go!