DASHING AROUND THE Democratic National Convention in San Francisco in 1984, it seemed surreal and revolutionary to watch female v.p. candidate Geraldine Ferraro and black presidential candidate Jesse Jackson speak to the crowd and the nation. Few thought it would happen in the traditional, hidebound realm of U.S. politics.
The 1980s had exploded with diversity-related news and trends. Society was at the cusp of vast social change. Multiculturalism and diversity soon became dirty words, and a culture war and strong backlash against political correctness swept America.
Gays in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York were creating communities and gaining political strength.. Women and minorities were rising to political office and the corporate suite. Immigration, economic isues, the apartheid movement were making news. Ethnic studies in universities continued to grow and expose students to broader U.S. history. A former colleague, the late gay journalist Randy Shilts, was breaking the first stories on AIDs. I was writing stories on the Japanese American internment during World War II, including my family's history at Manzanar, and the political fight for monetary redress from the U.S. government. During the 1984 presidential race, I landed an interview with Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, the most controversial and polarizing figure of that election year.
The nation was divided. Volatile social issues seemed to be everywhere, and I wondered at the time if the country would ever change or heal.
The win by Barack Obama in Tuesday's election shows that we've made progress over the past generations. In the 1960s, the nation was torn by civil rights issues and a Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. This week, we just witnessed the end of a political war between a half-black President and a challenger of Mormon faith. Half of the popular vote is no clear mandate. But a black man of either party, vaulting to a second term in the White House on the votes of a multicultural demographic, would have been unimaginable in earlier eras.
In his victory speech, the President spoke of a truly diverse and inclusive nation, a great cultural mash-up that only a few saw coming decades ago. In surely a milestone in U.S. political history, a president on election night spoke of all citizens, of all castes and colors and sexual orientations, yearning for the American Dream.
No Nirvana, of course. Parties and politicos will still clash fiercely. Red and blue states won't hold hands in civil union anytime soon. And sociopolitical issues pale when compared to global warming, national security and a $ 17 trillion U.S. deficit. But the rhetorical sweep of Obama's speech holds true: our culturally-diverse nation will move forward, under shared democratic values and a powerful rule of law unlike any society in history.
From Obama's victory speech in Chicago at the McCormick Place convention center:
" . . . I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love.
"It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try . . . .
"I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."