The cheers are already dying down and the business of transition has begun. President-Elect Barack Obama (I love the sound of that), being his usual measured and organized self, is already well along in planning his transition team. He will be ready to be president on Day One, as Hillary Clinton liked to say. And even sooner, the way things are going.
But for now, I am not yet ready to give up the jubilation that accompanied his amazing victory and I am still thinking about what it means for us as a country.
In Gail Collins' Op-Ed piece this week in the New York Times she reflected on the euphoria that accompanied Tuesday's election results. She ended her column with the following thoughts about her (and my) generation, the Baby Boomers:
"Finally, on behalf of the baby-boom generation, I would like to hear a little round of applause before we cede the stage to the people who were too young to go to Woodstock and would appreciate not having to listen to the stories about it anymore. It looks as though we will be represented in history by only two presidents, one of whom is George W. Bush. Bummer.
The boomers didn’t win any wars and that business about being self-involved was not entirely unfounded. On the other hand, they made the nation get serious about the idea of everybody being created equal. And now American children are going to grow up unaware that there’s anything novel in an African-American president or a woman running for the White House.
We’ll settle for that."
My first thought was that actually, Obama IS a Baby Boomer. Born in 1961, he's at the tail-end of my generation, since the definition of the Boomer designation is to be born between 1946 and 1964. However, since Obama does not identify with the Baby Boomer generation, and so many members of younger generations claim him as their own, I'll let that go.
But Collins' column made me start thinking about the long road we have traveled to reach this place and time. We sometimes forget that so many things were accomplished by previous generations, and it is because of them that this country was able to put aside the past and elect Barack Obama.
Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." This applies to the progress this country has made in the last 50 years.
Just a few of our giants - there were so many more - included President Truman, who integrated the armed forces; President Eisenhower, who enforced the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling; Martin Luther King, who inspired a whole generation of young activists to march and work for racial equality; John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy who promoted civil rights; Lyndon Johnson, who followed through and passed the Civil Rights Act; Nelson Mandela and his fight against apartheid; the folk singers of the 1950's and 1960's (The Weavers; Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; Phil Ochs - and many more) who used music to change minds; writers such as James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, John Howard Griffin, and others, who explored the experience of being black in America; and of course, movies and television programs that exposed attitudes and changed perceptions.
In the 1960s we finally had television programs with African-American actors in them in lead roles, such as "I Spy" with Bill Cosby, "Julia," with Diahann Carroll, and Star Trek, which creator Gene Roddenberry ensured would depict an idealistic future where everyone was equal. African-American actress Nichelle Nichols had a lead role as the Communications Officer on the bridge of the Enterprise.
Television continued to play a key role in changing attitudes. When "24" came on the air in November, 2001 with an African-American, Dennis Haysbert, as President David Palmer, I think a lot of people looked at his calm demeanor, his wisdom and integrity and said "I wish THAT guy was President NOW!"
The feminist movement was happening at the same time, breaking down barriers for women as well. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and others inspired women to continue the work toward equality that had begun back in the late 1800s with the women's suffrage movement. In politics we had Bela Abzug, Shirley Chisolm, Margaret Chase Smith, Geraldine Ferraro. In television, The Mary Tyler Moore Show showcased a single, successful career woman, followed by many other role models.
In 1972, Title IX was passed, making it the law of the land that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." This changed the face of many educational institutions, especially in the area of sports participation, which helped women gain confidence and leadership abilities.
Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president took women one step closer to true equality. It also revealed that deep-seated sexism is still rampant. However, the next generation will rise above that and Hillary has broken the ice for the next woman presidential candidate - or perhaps she will still be back herself.
There has been progress in gay rights as well. The Stonewall riots really kicked off the modern movement for gay rights, in 1969. Since then, there have been many steps forward for gay rights, and there has been more openness about sexual orientation both in the community and in the media. The culture is finally changing, and many states have domestic partnerships, civil unions, and finally, marriage.
But there seems to be a tendency for there to be a step back taken for every step forward.
When he was campaigning for President in 1992, Bill Clinton promised to allow anyone, no matter their sexual orientation, to serve openly in the military - and then after he was elected he compromised with the infamous "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.
And when the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage earlier this year and affirmed a right to marry for same-sex couples, the issue was immediately brought to the voters in Tuesday's election, with Proposition 8, which proposed to take that right away through a constitutional amendment.
Sadly, Proposition 8 and several other similar ballot measures in other states passed on Tuesday. In California, two lawsuits have already been filed to challenge the decision. Let's hope they prevail.
We still have a long way to go in terms of equality - for African-Americans, for women, and for the gay/lesbian/transgender community. Bigotry and hate are still out there, and we must be ever-vigilant against them.
But the election of Barack Obama has shown that we as a country can overcome hate, prejudice and bigotry and, as Martin Luther King said, judge others not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." And let's add to that, "not by their gender, not by their sexual orientation." Then and only then will this country be a country where everyone truly has a right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But electing Barack Obama has been an important step in the right direction.