Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History ... now and 146 years ago

One hundred and forty-six years ago, a son of Auburn, New York, sat in the White House as Abraham Lincoln shared for the first time his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

William Seward, a former Senator and opponent of Lincoln’s for the presidency two years before, wasn’t entirely sure of the bold action Lincoln was about to take – even though Seward was a strong abolitionist and helped Harriet Tubman settle in Auburn near his home. Still, the minute it was done and Lincoln freed the slaves, Seward – who, with Tubman, is the most honored resident of Auburn to this day – heartily defended his president and the decision that would echo through the ages.

Some of my ancestors were in Auburn at the time, likely toiling in the factories that have since peeled away most of their jobs – recent immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Ireland. Lord knows how they felt then.

But I know today, when I turned this morning to my 2-year-old son and told him we were voting for Obama and he smiled and yelled, “O-VAHma!”

Tonight, not three generations later, there’s a darn good chance we’ll be electing our first black President of the United States.

What a difference three generations makes.

We’ve lived through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and both Iraqs. My grandparents did the Great Depression, my parents ushered in the Baby Boom. We’ve helped elect a Catholic but couldn’t quite get a Cuomo. We went from high school grads with blue collars to expecting grad school or beyond.

But today, today is one of those moments where the plates shift, the earth moves and something truly historic happens.

I am proud of my roots in Auburn and the act that William Seward helped write and usher in. I can’t imagine whether he would have imagined today coming – even these long, 146 years later. When I started voting just 20 years ago, I know I couldn’t have imagined it.

Admittedly, I was a Hillary guy in the primary and a McCain guy in 2000. I was slow to drink the Kool-Aid on this guy for reasons of experience, not heritage or race. But I saw McCain run like Bush Lite and Obama take the economic crisis and become a true leader. I had no misgivings casting my ballot and thought not a bit about race.

But now, in the quiet before the polls close and history may become real, it’s a good time to reflect on that 146 year journey from owned property to, very likely, leader of the free world. Far too long for most and far too painful a journey to be sure.

As has been quoted a lot lately, “Rosa sat so Martin could walk, Martin walked so Obama could run, Obama ran so our children can fly.”

I saw it in the eyes of Jake this morning – he didn’t care a bit that we were making history. But he was psyched to be a part of it.

And so am I.