'Minorities' behind Obama's victory: 'Yes, we can'

OPINION. Aureli Argemí, president of CIEMEN, analyses the results of the US elections earlier this month, highlighting the importance of the minority vote. Argemí explores the relationship between democracy and respect for marginalized groups.

Aureli Argemí

The world has rarely followed the run-up to an American presidential election so closely. Many believe, and rightly so, that a great deal is dependent on the outcome, the build-up and the aftermath of these elections, in political, economic and social terms... and in this respect the 2008 election is no different from past American presidential campaigns of recent decades. But there are signs that the outcome of the most recent election is a break from the norm, signs that American society has undergone profound change, in terms of its attitudes and its options, changes which may have repercussions throughout the world. The fact that an Afro-American has been elected US president for the first time suggests a major change in mentality, a change that seems extremely swift if we recall how prevalent racism was in the US not so very long ago.

One of the other differences between the 2008 election and previous presidential elections is the vital role played by the so-called Black and Latino "minorities". These "minority" voters were the ones who tipped the balance, the ones who allowed Barack Obama to be elected president. These "minorities" were the groups who best embodied Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes, we can", or at least the ones who embodied it in the most meaningful way.

Yes, we can. In other words, the outcome of the US elections provides us with conclusive evidence that social change does not necessarily depend on those who wield the most power. History has demonstrated often enough, with concrete examples of which the present case is just one, that the points of view of weak and marginalized "minorities" are more powerful, more convincing than the arguments put forward by those who dominate media networks and run the financial and political scene as if the media, the economy and politics belonged to "majorities" and, moreover, as if they were representing the wider public.

How come "minorities" are able to win within a democratic framework? In the end because, more frequently than we imagine, the democratic pledge of these "minorities" goes deeper, stretches further and is seen as a positive contribution to society as a whole. Afro-American and Hispanic American communities voted for Barack Obama first and foremost because of their own situation and because they believed their candidate was better placed to solve their problems than his opponent. Logical enough. But the president-elect understood that the needs of these communities also reflected the needs of society as a whole and that is what he communicated with more than adequate results to the white "majority", whose support he needed to reach the White House.

It remains to be seen whether the new president's strategies will translate into practices that bring the different sectors of US society closer together. For the time being, all we can say is that the United States of America have made a great contribution to democracy, particularly to those countries with "minorities" able to teach the "majority" a thing or two, "minorities" determined to put "Yes, we can" into practice.

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