Bit Part on a National Stage

Senator Barack Obama will become the next President of the United States of America, propelled by a huge turnout across the nation, including Vineyard voters. Many were inspired by his message of hope, summed up in three words he has made his own: Yes we can. He acknowledged his unlikely candidacy, being the son of a Kansas woman and a Kenyan man, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia. Some predicted Americans, some who had upheld segregation laws in their lifetime, would not elect a youthful black man to the highest office in the nation. But indeed they did.

President Bush put it this way: “No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday.” Mr. Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain, offered these words: “This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”

On the Vineyard, where African Americans have long found a haven and a gathering place, where academics have long communed, and which political heavyweights have lately come call their own, many played a part in the historic election. There were the well-known Island personalities: Caroline Kennedy, who stumped for the President-elect at his nominating convention and helped to select his Vice President-elect, Joseph Biden; the Clintons, who actively campaigned for the Democratic ticket despite their own thwarted ambitions. There were the well-connected Islanders: attorney Greg Craig, of Washington, D.C., and Menemsha, who prepared Senator Obama for the national debates, and Harvard professor Charles Ogletree, an Oak Bluffs fixture in the season, who was as advisor to the Obama campaign.

And then there were the working year-rounders, who know so well this county is, odd as it seems to outsiders, among the commonwealth’s least affluent, who sent Senator Obama small donations, who worked their cell phones hard to influence undecided voters, who journeyed on days off to swing states to canvass and who held innovative fundraisers. They were among those who recognized themselves and their lives in President-elect Obama’s words after Tuesday’s victory, ahead of Veterans Day this Tuesday and inauguration in January:

“The challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.”

These are significant challenges. But as the President-elect prepares for them, he added these closing words, words which elicited gasps and tears from some Vineyarders, an almost kinetic hope: “This is our time — to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth — that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can.”