Change. At this point, it’s an obvious buzzword, but it’s an incredibly appropriate one. When my parents were children in the south, they drank from different water fountains than black children. Things have changed.
As I write this, I still don’t know what’s going to happen with Proposition 8 in California, but even if that hateful amendment passes, banning gay marriages that already exist, things have changed. Look at how different life is for gay Americans in 2008 than it was in 1998, in 1968. A setback in California (or Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona) does not signal the death of gay rights.
I mean, just think about how many defeats America endured on its way to electing a black president. There were (and are) racist laws and racist people fighting every movement forward. There will always be stones in the road, but they cannot stop progress.
Tonight, tomorrow, and perhaps for days to come, I’ll be looking to art to help me understand my feelings about what has happened on this election night. I’ll be looking to songs and plays and films to help me process my joy (for Obama’s victory) and my disappointment (for the anti-gay measures that have passed.)
Mostly, though, I’m processing joy. The nation’s positive actions will trump its spasms of fear. You can’t stop the train. It’s racing.
After the jump, I’ll discuss the song that epitomize that racing train.
You Can’t Stop the Beat from the Broadway version of Hairspray
The great thing about this song–aside from its amazing beat and chorus–is that it says racial, gender, and queer equality are inevitable. The opening line insists, “You can’t stop the avalanche when it’s racing down the hill,” and that’s right. You can’t.
In Hairspray, the “avalanche” is a landslide of power for the disenfranchised. The show concludes with black people, overweight people, poor people, women, drag queens, and kids grabbing the authority that had previously belonged to white, straight, rich oldsters who didn’t want anything to change. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is their battle cry.
Even better, the song doesn’t villainize the vanquished. In the Broadway musical, the final verse lets the bad guys (racist Velma von Tussle and her classist daughter) sing their own verse. Instead of getting pushed off the stage–like they do in the film version–the von Tussles become part of the empowerment party.
That’s the kind of change I can believe in: The kind of change that makes room for everyone. The kind of change that doesn’t elevate one group of people at the expense of another.
That’s the kind of change I think is coming, thanks to tonight’s election.