Still reeling from the excitement and historic significance of the election of President Barack Obama, I could not help but think about how far we've come and how far we've got left to go. I wondered about what this moment symbolizes for all Americans and for the world. There have been many symbols of America over the years. The bald eagle, the American Flag, the Statue of Liberty. But I think perhaps the penny is somehow a more apt representation of the American people. That's right. The penny, the one cent copper coin of the American currency.
And why not? The American economy is driven by consumers. Our buying power affects the world's markets. We are a capitalist nation. The penny also symbolizes opportunity for upward mobility. We offer opportunities for people to work hard towards achieving a better life for themselves and their families.
And it was the collapse of the economy that highlighted the skills and leadership of Barack Obama. Economic turmoil hurts all Americans in a real way, across all segments of society, regardless of race, gender, or ideology.
But let's look at the flip side of the coin. The penny also represents the American ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality. It bears the portrait of one of America's greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln. He was a senator from Illinois, who kept the nation as a whole by winning the Civil War and ending hundreds of years of slavery in America in 1865. How fitting it is that another Illinois senator becomes President, a man identified with an enslaved people President Lincoln set free.
The penny also bears the national monument dedicated to President Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial. And it was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on August 28, 1963, that Civil Rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King delivered his I have a dream speech for equality.
And the connection doesn't end there. After succumbing to a boycott in 1992, Arizona was one of the last states to enact the federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day. It is kind of fitting, how Arizona senator John McCain, whose campaign sparked division, conceded defeat to Illinois senator Barack Obama, whose campaign built a coalition of unity across the nation.
But the election of the first mixed race President doesn't end the problems of equality in America. On the same night Barack Obama was elected President, Proposition 8 passed in California, banning gay marriage. Similar measures were also passed in Florida and Arizona. But other states still have legalized gay marriages, so the struggle for gay rights continues. The fight for equality for all Americans still goes on.
It was Baynard Rustin who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He was one of the core leaders integral to the Civil Rights Moment. He was one of Dr Martin Luther King's closest and most trusted advisers. He was also openly gay. He continued to work for civil rights the rest of his life. Before he passed away, he said,
"The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."
For years, some people have tried to get rid of the penny, saying it's worthless and costs more to make than it's monetary value. But they've failed. The penny is still here, because it symbolizes something much more than it's monetary value. It symbolizes the American ideal of equality. On the penny is the Latin phrase, "E Pluribus Unum" which means "Out of many, one". We are a nation of many people who've joined to become one.
And just as the penny is still here, so too will the fight for equality continue. So long as we fight, we have hope. So long as we have hope, we have strength.We will not give in nor will we surrender the fight for civil rights for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, or creed. The struggle will be hard fought and there will be sacrifices. But we will make them gladly and willingly, because we believe in the American ideas of liberty, freedom, and equality for all it's people.