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November 5, 2008

I won’t add too much to the mountains of words that are even now being written about what happened yesterday. But it was amazing, inspiring, and hopeful.

Last night, after Obama delivered his victory speech, the music swelled and the families joined the candidates onstage. One of my friends (I’d had people over for chili—Obama’s recipe—and apple pie) said, “I’m waiting to see the credits roll!”

Later on, someone else not at my house echoed the same sentiment, with almost exactly the same phrasing. I felt it, too: Watching Barack speak in Grant Park, echoing the words of Lincoln and Dr. King, it felt like an amazing movie where America rises to the occasion and is actually as good as we hope to believe it is.

But this isn’t a movie. It really happened. Barack Obama—Think about it: A mixed-race man named Barack Hussein Obama!—will be the 44th president of the United States. We and the world should be proud of ourselves.

I’ll end with this. Last night, toward the end of his speech, Obama spoke about a woman named Ann Nixon Cooper. Now, usually I hate these little homilies that candidates seem hidebound to work into their speeches. (“Recently I spoke with so-and-so from Nowheresville, and she can’t afford her medicine.”) So I was skeptical when Barack started to go down this rhetorical road.

But then it shifted and widened like a river delta, as Ann Nixon Cooper’s story was expanded and magnified to encompass the whole of the 20th century, now put to sleep. Obama asked what, if our children are lucky enough to live into the 22nd century, will we have changed for them?

This is how he closed his speech. Feel the sweep of history and the hope for the future. Yes we did, yes we can, and yes we will:

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

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 doubts 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.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

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