Yesterday, 25-year-old Kate White, the daughter of an aide to Vice-President-elect Joseph Biden, told us how she — and many of her generation — felt on Election Night this year. Now, as promised, WVFC's Cecilia Ford, who happens to be White's mom, answers that simple narrative with some thoughts from the Baby Boom generation.
As millions of people all over the world celebrated the election of Barack Obama last week, it struck me that this moment, while a national and international event, was a personal one for each of us as well. I began to realize that everyone was reacting to it in a way that was unique in its emotional content, through their own personal lens and history. I imagined that African-Americans particularly may have had strong feelings about this election. In the days before the election, I saw a number of black people interviewed on TV who said they were not going to watch the election returns because the tension would be too unbearable.

When Obama was first running, blacks did not turn out in record-breaking numbers for him. For some, I think, that fear and uncertainty still overwhelmed hope at times. And why not? Many whites are still pinching themselves and saying they never thought they’d see a black man elected President in their lifetime. I imagine that the astonishment of African-Americans who have (and still do) experienced racism in thousands of obvious and not so obvious ways that whites can’t imagine must be profound.

The night before the election, Chris Matthews gave an impassioned editorial about the American spirit and struggle for change and how we are a nation of descendents of tough immigrants who came here to better their lives. He didn’t, however, mention the glaring exception of African-Americans, who were brought here as slaves and robbed of their dignity, identities, families, culture, and names (which I think is why it sent such a collective chill up our spines when McCain referred to Obama as “that one.”) And unlike other ethnic groups who came here as immigrants or refugees, African Americans have been forced to build their lives in the same place where their torment occurred. Hope has been a long time coming.

Hope is where I think Blacks intersect with another broad group: baby boomers. Election night I had a group of friends over to watch the returns, and though it was a small one, I realized later the guests had varied origins: Chinese, English, Greek, Indian, Irish, Japenese-Polish, Jewish and South African. The ages ranged from early twenties to late fifties. We were all incredibly excited, and when Obama was declared the winner at 11:00 p.m., it was an amazing moment for us all–diehard Obama supporters who had gathered for every primary and every debate leading up to this climax.

The differences among us were due to more to age than background. For the younger people, who were joyful and excited, there was the special significance of a leader for the future. The oldest among us, however, “the baby boomers,” were all in tears. As I looked around the room I was amazed to see even the most reserved and private of my friends openly weeping. This was mirrored by the shots of people in crowds on TV—the oldest celebrants all seeming to be crying. For us, this victory was bittersweet, and reflecting on this over the next few days, I realized that although Obama is a symbol of hope he has also reminded us of our lost hopes.

For those of us who were young during the 60’s, the struggle for civil rights, the anti-war movement, the sense of movement and change were incredibly real, and for a while we felt we were winning the battle. It all came to such an abrupt and painful end when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The Vietnam War eventually ended and progress continued to be made in civil rights, but the passion and idealism seemed to have been drained from the movement, which splintered and in some cases became violent (see Ayers, William) and we watched in horror as the generation behind us became politically apathetic, and worse, the one behind them became investment bankers, and we ourselves turned into yuppies as the whole culture traded power to the people for purchasing power.

Obama offered the first glimmer of hope–after all those years–that the passion for a just nation, which had been so brutally brought to a halt, could be reignited. Having felt it once, I think baby boomers carry particular shame about dropping the ball after losing our leaders. For this fight was not about restoring the United States to its position as a just nation, but establishing its position for the first time. Despite the ideals of our constitution and our bill of rights, we Americans have always known that our nation has never come close to facing our shame or expiating our guilt over slavery and racism.

At about 6:30 a.m. the morning after the election, I heard a shout from my New York City bedroom window. What sounded like a young man on the street yelled, “Obama is President!” I realized I was finally in America.

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