When I approached PS 136 this morning, the line almost reached the end of the block. It was one of the longest I’ve ever stood in (and my academic meanderings have meant that I’ve had to vote in several states). I thought immediately of Freedom Summer and those brave college students and elders who faced down death just so they could have a voice and make our country live up to its promises of democracy. I had no such fears of assault and I had the “leisure” to wait in line for hours if need be. My class is not until late afternoon and if I had to, I could cancel it. But I thought about so many others who have to be at work “on time” or who have to pick up their children from school (as I overheard a passer-by yelling in her cell phone that she could not wait because she needed to retrieve her children and I quietly hoped she would get them, bring them back and join us in line). We have come far since the summer of 1964, but we still have farther to go before everyone has a voice in our democracy.
I walked through the doors of PS 136 to meet a sketch of Martin Luther King Jr. To the left of his head was a painted American flag. Beneath his visage, an excerpt of his “I Have a Dream” speech. While I do not like to wax sentimental about that singular speech (that tends to fix King in a moment in time), I could not help but feel that so many of us gathered on this historic day–newly naturalized Americans, native New Yorkers, and transplants (like me), black and white, old and young, abled and differently abled–were excited to be a part of something larger than our individual selves; a number of people after voting even walked out of that school exclaiming with glee. And it’s not about investing hope in one man, in Barack Obama. It’s that a wave of change is in the air and it’s so palpable that we can feel it all around us. It’s not even just about the U.S. The world is watching and waiting. His brilliance aside, Barack is a symbol of the change a number of us have been waiting for and that we all must work to make a reality. We have the power to shape history and we can start with today.