My wife and I were sitting watching the election returns come in on CNN. She was 'chatting' online with some of her friends. I was writing and working on the web site keeping one eye on the television. A few moments after 11 p.m. CNN announced that Barack Obama was projected as the winner of the presidential election. Kim let out a whoop of joy, as did I, followed by her 'happy dance' and more shouts of joy.
I was moved by John McCain's concession speech, with its call to unity and blessing. He said: "Tonight - tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Sen. Obama - whether they supported me or Sen. Obama. I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president."
I sat in 'the circle' at Lake Eola Park the next day. This is where we share food with the poor and homeless. This is the place where the City of Orlando criminalized sharing food with the poor, the place where activists would be arrested for giving food to the hungry, and the place the U.S. District Court would say was the "location [the public square] which, from time immemorial, has been the traditional public forum for free speech" as it overturned the ordinance as unconstitutional. I watched these impoverished saints walk in, to wait in community, while awaiting the arrival of the activists who would be coming to share food, provide clothing, arrange health care, offer legal services, and provide pastoral care and prayer. I was struck with the image that we were engaged in a boxing match with the 'isms' that plague our society.
Those 'isms' are racism, sexism, and classism. We scored a TKO (Technical Knock Out) in our round with the classism of the City of Orlando, as the Federal Court's ruling against the city functioned as a 'standing 8 count.' We still are waiting to see if they will stay down, or if they will continue their fight against the Lord's poor.
A round in the battle against racism was won on points, in a split-decision Tuesday night, with Barack Obama's election as president. The exit polls show us that race is still a factor, especially amongst certain voter groups and in certain parts of our country. But as John McCain said that night, "America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States. "
But Senator McCain's next proclamation, although noble, is still far from realization in our country, especially here in Orlando. He proclaimed, "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth." These words ring hollow to the poor and homeless in our cities and in our woods. Classism has relegated them to their place as America's untouchable caste, our unmentionable shame. These 'citizens' have little to cherish, as they are arrested and persecuted for such crimes as 'being in a horizontal position in the park,' brushing teeth or bathing in a public restroom, or loitering. They are vilified in the media and people swarm to the local newspaper blogs saying they are worthless (or worse), that they should be run out of town, and that there should be 'open season' on 'them.'
The term 'wealth envy' was bantered about frequently during the campaign. But I submit the more urgent issue is not envy, but fear. Classism leads to fear of the poor and homeless, fear that 'they' will covet our stuff and try to rob us and take it from us. Classism also causes us to fail to recognize the humanity of the poor. Are we afraid of feeling guilty if we recognize we are two paychecks, or one foreclosure, or a catastrophic hospitalization away from finding ourselves in the same position?
After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness -- in the imperfections of man.
Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds.
I pray that as president he will remember those words.
Rev. Alan Clapsaddle is a social justice advocate and blogger in Orlando, working with the National Homeless Coalition and LA2W.org. Alan serves at First UCC Church of Orlando.