YES WE DID
America has had a non-violent revolution.
As long as there are historians writing about the United States, this moment of fundamental re-alignment of our national purpose will be remembered, pored over and analyzed. It will be seen as one of the shining points along the evolutionary arc of the American story. Yet it will never submit itself to being summed up in a nice little package that reason alone can understand.
It’s been noted before that Americans get excited about politics every forty years. Then, in the words of comedian Will Rogers, “We have to go sleep it off.”
We were certainly excited in the l960’s. And this is 2008; exactly forty years since the most dramatic and violent year of the Sixties decade: the year when both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were literally killed before our eyes.
At that point, a generation of young people — looking much like the youthful army so out in full force today, only grungier — marched in the streets to repudiate an oppressive system and to try to stop an unjust war. And then bullets stopped us. The shots that killed the Kennedys and King carried a loud, unspoken message for all of us: that we were to go home now, that we were to do whatever we wanted within the private sector, yet leave the public sector to whomever wanted it so much that they were willing to kill for it. And for all intents and purposes, we did as we were told.
According to ancient Asian philosophers, history moves not in a circle but in a spiral. Whether as an individual or as a nation, whatever lessons we were presented once and failed to learn will come back again but in a different form. For the generation of the Sixties and for our children, the lessons of that time — as well as its hopes and dreams and idealism — came back in 2008.
During our forty years in the desert, we learned many things. Then, we marched in the streets; this time, we marched to the polls. Then, we shouted, “Hell no, we won’t go!” This time, we shouted, “Yes, we can.” Then, we were so angry that our anger consumed us. This time, we made a more compassionate humanity the means by which we sought our goal as well as the goal itself.
In the words of Gloria Steinem, “I feel like our future has come back.” And indeed it has. For in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “No lie can last forever.” What Bobby Kennedy tried to do, and was killed for trying; what Martin Luther King tried to do, and was killed for trying; what the students at Kent state were trying to protest, and were killed for daring to; Barack Obama and his army of millions of idealists with the audacity to hope have now succeeded at doing.
Praise God. Praise God.
And that praise to God didn’t just go out last night, when Obama’s election to the Presidency was finally achieved. That praise was part of what allowed the waters to part here in the first place. Millions of Americans have been deeply aware that this kind of historic and fundamentally positive effort has not gone well in the recent past, and the spiritual understanding of this generation of Americans — an understanding not yet fully formed forty years ago — created an invisible light around the Obama campaign. How many people over the last twenty-one months have posted, in their own way, angels to Obama’s left and angels to his right, angels in front of him and angels behind him, angels above him and angels below him. I know I have, and so has everyone I know. Hopefully we will continue to do so.
The Obama phenomenon did not come out of nowhere. It emerged as much from our story as from his — as much from our yearning for meaning as from his ambition to be President; as much from our determination to achieve collective redemption as from his determination to achieve an individual accomplishment. And those who fail to recognize the invisible powers at work here — who see the external drama of a political win, yet fail to discern the profound forces that moved mountains by moving the American heart — well, they’re just like Bob Dylan’s Thin Man to whom he sang, “You don’t know what’s going on here, do you, Mr. Jones?”
Back then, Mr. Jones didn’t know what was going on, but many of us did. We knew what was going on then and we knew what needed to happen; we simply weren’t mature enough and we were too wounded then, as people and as a culture, to pull it off.
This time, we both knew and we did. We knew who we had to become and we knew what we had to do. The violent American revolution of 1776 entailed separating from another country. The non-violent revolution of 2008 — a non-violent revolution that did not quite fail, yet also did not quite succeed in the l960’s — has entailed separating from who we used to be.
In the l960’s, we wanted peace but we ourselves were angry. This time, after hearing Gandhi’s call that we must be the change we want to see happen in the world, we came to our political efforts with an understanding that we must cast violence from our hearts and minds if we are to cast it from our world; that we must try to love our enemies as well as our friends; and that when a genius of world-historic proportions emerges among us, we cannot and we must not fail to do everything humanly and spiritually possible to support him. For his sake.. and for ours.
Having gone to a higher place within ourselves, a higher level of leadership began to emerge among us. A higher level of leader now having emerged among us, he calls us to an even higher place within ourselves. These two forces together can and will, as Obama has said, truly change the world. Having moved one mountain, we’ll now remove the ones that remain.
And now, the Sixties can finally truly be over. I never felt that Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. were really resting at peace. They always seemed to me like ghosts among us, unhappy and unsettled somehow. But now I think they can rest at last, because we have resurrected the dreams they stood for. And those of us of a generation who in some way became frozen in our psychic tracks back then, we as well can move on in a way we never have before. We can finally let go of the past…now that the future is back.
Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we will.
— by Marianne Williamson, author of Healing the Soul of America