You may have read the anecdote of how this became the rallying cry of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. If not, briefly, Mr. Obama was speaking to a paltry crowd. It was a rainy day. The campaign had been hitting some rough organizational patches in the road. A woman, Edith Chiles, from the back of the crowd shouted out"Fired up. Ready to go." She repeated the phrase until it spread to the other people in attendance. Obama says the story illustrates that one voice can change a room, a city, a state, a country as it spreads a message of hope.
I'm not as cynical as the next guy. I might even confess to being a bit naive. But when I hear Obama speak I hear not just his voice but the voice of those who have drawn and continue to draw the raw deal of intentional and unintentional racism. I hear the prospect of hope for deliverance from our past. Not just the near, and increasingly irrelevant past of The Decider, but the distant past of slavery.
In some of the most moving and eloquent words ever written, his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln said, "Yet, if God wills that it (the Civil War) continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, ... "
Thankfully, the scourge of civil war has passed. Yet, One Hundred and Forty Three years after the end of that war, who among us disproportionately draws the menial duties? Of course, there's Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other sports stars but these athletes don't offer young black kids the realistic prospect of joining the mainstream of society. My workplace is not segregated by law. One hundred percent of the office personnel are white. One hundred percent of the factory personnel are black. Are these cards dealt from a well-shuffled deck?
Senator Obama is a messenger of hope who wields a sword of inspiration. It is my hope and my belief that such a figure can finally put racism at the back of the bus. His will not be an easy campaign. Even now, I'm sure, the 2008 version of Slime Boat Veterans for Truth are preparing to sow seeds of fear and division about the prospect of a black man with a funny foreign-sounding name ascending to the presidency.
Surely, after years of wasted opportunities and millions of lives lived with the weight of racism on their shoulders we can look at this man and get fired up at the prospect of ending the centuries-long curse. It is my hope that we're ready to go into a better, more equitable future.