I MET JIM CROW AND SENATOR OBAMA IS LAYING HIM TO REST

I was phoning somewhere in the American South for Obama the other day. What an education for me! There were simple, poor families that have been energized by the campaign, volunteering, excited. There were some angry independents, a completely nuts Nader person who hung up on me after screaming about women getting 93 cents on the dollar.

And then there was “Jim Crow” himself, who I have always longed to meet. When I say “Jim Crow” I mean those people in the United States who have actively supported racial segregation their whole lives. They actively ensured through legislation in the late nineteenth century, referred to as the “Jim Crow Laws”, that blacks would remain segregated and unequal in the United States, in a steady reversal of the gains made by victory in the Civil War over slavery. The great President Woodrow Wilson was actually the first Southern Democrat to occupy the White House, and he promptly introduced segregation in 1913 into all Federal offices.

That was then, but this is now, and back to my phone calls. I called an elderly lady, and asked to speak to her. We were calling to inquire who people were voting for. Her husband answered the phone, however, and said she could not come to the phone. So I inquired as to whether he knew if she was going to vote for Obama. Big mistake! The old man said in a thick drawl, an accent that suddenly got thicker as he spoke these memorable words, “anyone who votes for him in my family knows I’ll kill’em.” That was interesting. So I probed further, because such people frighten me, fascinate me, and compel me to understand more deeply human nature–all at the same time. Much of my peace work and citizen diplomacy of twenty five years is driven by meeting the edge of militancy and violence that preoccupies the human soul, all the way from my family to the Middle East. So I asked him why. And he said, “I am white. And I was born white.’ Then he hung up. I wanted so much to talk to him.

I sat there in the calling center, stunned, surrounded by a thousand other people calling at the same time, and I was reminded of not only why I was volunteering in this historic election that will change American history if he wins, when he wins. I was reminded of why I have worked for twenty five years at the edge of war zones. This is something easy to forget in the swirl of Washington, politics and elections. I felt a strange thing for me in the phoning room, surrounded by blacks and whites and American Indians and Arab Americans and Hispanics, senior citizens and children–I felt pride, American pride.

I also felt something else very strange for me of late. I felt safe, perhaps for the first time in eight years, or perhaps since 9/11. I felt surrounded by the diversity of humanity, and they made me feel that things would be ok, that the old man is really old now, and his white racism is disappearing from my America. And with its disappearance we in our diversity might just be able to tackle our global problems in a completely new way.

I felt safe not only because I believe that Senator Obama has restored hope to America and to the world, which I do. The reports are from everywhere in the world how desperately they want us to elect him. But later in the day, watching a news report on the calling stations I was emotionally moved watching McCain supporters in a similar calling station, doing exactly what I was doing. I was moved because there has been an explosion here of democracy, real democracy, participation, and an energy so palpable that I know that the election is just the beginning of a different era here in America.

I was moved because Jim Crow is being laid to rest. We are burying him with every vote, every gesture, every moment that we create community across all lines of color, race, and religion. There will be more setbacks here, but there is some invisible boundary that has been passed over here on our way, finally, to global community. The Jim Crow laws had excluded African Americans from office, from voting even. Senator Obama is peacefully putting Jim Crow in his final resting place, and as he is lowered into his grave, I am starting to breathe, to feel safer, to feel the security of diversity. It is as if a transformed America, truly diverse from top to bottom, may hold the key that unlocks the door to global cooperation, community, and prosperity.



© Marc Gopin

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