06 November 2008

Letter from Peter Storey

This letter circulated around the Divinity School on Monday. Always good to hear a word from Bishop Storey. (And it's a good reminder of how partisan you can be when you are retired and not American!)

Dear Friends in the United States,

Warmest greetings to you on this momentous evening. You have been much in our minds and on our hearts over these past few months as we have avidly followed the progress of your Presidential election campaign. As we've said before, what happens in your election profoundly affects us all.

And what a campaign! I recall a dinner table conversation in Atlanta way back in May, 2007, in the home of good friends Jim and Fentress Waits. Those around the table were talking with a deep sense of interest and hope about an exciting young Senator named Barack Obama. Back then, the possibility of Obama's even gaining the nomination of his own party appeared so remote that it seemed more the stuff of dreams than reality.

Yet here you are, on the eve of an even more 'impossible' breakthrough tomorrow! Think of it: the nation whose original sin was to to buy and sell Africans like chattels, that legislated them less than human, could well elect an African-American tomorrow to be its First Citizen! I wonder if the people of the USA have fully realized what a liberating moment this could be? For African Americans, who hold their breath, not yet quite believing what might be possible tomorrow, this may be a step beyond even what Martin Luther King Jr saw from the mountain-top, but it is also more than that: it will be a day of liberation for all Americans: whether deeply conscious, as so many thoughtful people are, of this great burden of historic guilt, or defiantly denialist as too many on the shrill right wing remain. All - the good, the bad and the ugly - will take a giant step toward liberation from one of US history's most burdensome shackles.

I say this because that is the experience we discovered the day Nelson Mandela took the oath of office as the first black President of South Africa. Millions of his exploited compatriots danced with obvious joy at their new freedom, but less expected and perhaps more amazing was the sense of liberation that came upon their erstwhile oppressors. White South Africans testified in large numbers to a new lightness of being, as if some invisible, dragging weight, was gone, and something new could be born.

Now I know that the USA is not South Africa, and your story is not identical with ours, but there are enough echoes for me to assure you that if the voters of America break this barrier tomorrow, you will experience what I'm talking about!

Of course, like so many of you, we are anxious as well as excited. Having seen how deep are the currents of fear and prejudice that still run across the length and breadth of the United States, we too hold our breath. Be assured that the hopes of the vast majority of the people of the wider world go with Senator Barack Obama. There is no question about this. I doubt that even 5 percent of South Africans of any race group have any desire to see anyone of George W Bush's party near the White House. However, we have seen how easily US elections can be stolen and we are praying, as so many of you are, that tomorrow, the American people will march to the polls in greater numbers than ever before, determined to expunge eight of the most shameful years in US history. President Bush has brought America's reputation so low, that from our point of view, another such blow from the US electorate would be almost impossible to understand. Eight years of arrogance and ignorance have been done deep harm in the rest of the world and to the image of a great nation. Surely they will be declared as enough by the people of the US?

But let us be hopeful! Just as tomorrow offers the opportunity for a great sense of historic liberation in the US, so it also offers a chance to radically alter the world's current perception of America, and to open the door to new possibilities of healing and transformation for US foreign relations. If Obama is announced as your President-elect, there will be great rejoicing all around the globe. We will see new hope of the might of the United States being bent to works of justice and compassion and cooperation. We will see new possibilities for the poor of the earth: for the first time, Americans will have elected someone who knows what it is like to be on the outside as well as in the circle, who has actually worked among the poor, who has lived , however briefly, outside the American bubble, and who has the blood of the world's most oppressed continent in his veins. Everyone of these factors speak of change.

You will recall that the day following September 11, 2001, France's most famous newspaper ran the headline: 'Today, we are all Americans!' Well, please know that around the world there are so many people whose hopes ride on what you will do tomorrow, that I guess we wish we were all Americans! What a privilege it will be to vote in this election!

Our prayers are with you.

Warm regards,

Peter Storey

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