Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Viewpoint: Time to smile

By Nancy Giles
Social commentator

Tuesday. Election Day. Just about 11 o'clock at night.

Brooklyn party
Street parties erupted in Brooklyn with news of Obama's win

I'm watching the election returns, flipping back from CNN to MSNBC's cable news coverage, comparing both networks' high-tech touch-screen graphics; United States maps with various states highlighted in red and blue; voting tallies and percentages scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen.

I've got a blanket, some Halloween candy, and a beer. George, my dog, is dreaming beagle dreams and snoring loudly.

BREAKING NEWS comes on the screen and my stomach lurches. I reach for the remote, and the phone starts ringing. It's Portia. Best friend of 30 years. African-American, like me.

"I can't believe it. I've been crying all night," she says.
"Wait. Something's happening," I say.

The phone line beeps. Dori. Old flame and good friend. Born in Israel. A political obsessive, like me.
"We did it, baby," he shouts. "CNN just called it. We're in!"
"Wait," I say, "I'm switching to CNN. Call you back."

Phone beeps. Brigid. Five houses up the street. Friend of eight years. Irish-Catholic. She's 13.
"OH MY GOD NANCE," she screams, "HE DID IT! Oh my GODDD! YAAAAAAA!" I heard her mom laughing in the background. "WE LOVE YOU!"
"Love you too," I holler. "Let me call you back."

I'm pushing buttons on the remote. The phone vibrates with a text: "I've never been more proud to be an American. Wow. Love, Kris." My friend and two-day-a-week assistant.


I said it out loud to hear how it sounded. "President Barack Hussein Obama." (Hussein is Arabic for good-looking, by the way.)


George was now wide-awake, and annoyed at all the phone calls and me jerking around with the remote control. But I just sat there, and stared. I didn't cry.

Nancy Giles (photo courtesy of Nancy Giles)
Nancy Giles is a social commentator for CBS News Sunday Morning, CBS The Early Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The Today Show, Larry King Live.

Everybody was crying, even Jessie Jackson during the new president's victory speech. (I'll bet he was thinking "why oh why did I make that remark about wanting to cut off Barack's privates?") I'm still struggling to put it all into words.

I watched the crowds celebrating. They were black, elderly, wealthy, Latinos, college students, union members, white, Asian, teachers, volunteers, artists, Native Americans, lawyers, students. The last time I felt so connected to so many people was during Spring Concert 1969 at P.S. 30, Queens.

We sang a medley of protest songs, ending with the song "Aquarius" from HAIR. We'd heard that on Broadway the actors made a "statement" and took off their clothes at the end of the show. We decided to flip the stage lights on and off instead. That was our "statement." We were in the fourth grade..

Barack and Michelle Obama watching the election results come in.
Families across the US were glued to TV screens watching the results

President Barack Obama. Think of it. A brainy president. Someone who's intellectually curious. Who reads books! Whose mom woke him up early and made him study a little harder. What a great thing for young kids to see. Maybe they'll think getting good grades is "cool."

And maybe my people will finally stop using the word "nigger" (it's hard for me to even write that word) and we'll really have pride in ourselves and of our ancestors, and all we've accomplished.

We are the people who came to this country in chains, as slaves. We were separated from our language, our families, our homeland. We helped build this country, but weren't considered human beings. We were property. And despite that, and the incredible obstacles we faced over the last three hundred or so years, look at all we've done!

Out of many

I wonder what my parents, in heaven, must think about this. My mother was a World War II veteran, who joined the Women's Army Corps when the army was still segregated.

My father lost an eye as a young boy, and was the only son in the family who didn't make the military their career. He became an architect, and it was Mom's GI bill that helped them buy the family home. And they had seven children, and we believed that we could do anything. But I still never thought I'd see this day.

So here we are. The bi-racial son of an African student and a girl from Kansas. He's a walking, talking "e pluribus unum" - "out of many, one".

He's an incredible symbol of the idea that is the United States of America. Our new President, Barack Obama.

I think I'm smiling.

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