Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can!

I’ve been very reserved about becoming emotionally involved in this election, and I haven’t really even talked much about it to anyone. If you know me, you know my heart belongs to Obama, but I dared not follow the campaign too closely. It seemed to me that too much was on the line -- more than any election I’ve participated in before, and perhaps more than I will again in my lifetime. For my own protection, I stepped back, I avoided the election coverage in the news, I did not follow the speeches, nor did I do anything in my power to aid the campaign.

My first election experience was very emotionally charged. I registered to vote specifically to give my vote to Jerry Brown, who lost to Bill Clinton in the primary. Clinton won my vote easily, and when he was elected, I was beside myself with joy. I did a very naughty and illegal thing to celebrate, but since I didn’t get caught, none of you will ever know what that was. I was young and idealistic. My right to choose and environmental issues seemed the most important things in the world to me, and someone who would fight to preserve those was president, so I was happy. For 8 years. They were great years to me, not just for the ideals I voted for, but because of the things he delivered to us, and how our country thrived. I learned about what was important to me in a president and I cared about politics. Then, I naively thought that was some kind of guarantee that Al Gore would carry on the torch.

The 2000 election nearly killed me. If I supported Clinton in ’92, that paled in comparison to how much I wanted Gore to win, and it was devastating, not just that he lost, but HOW he lost. It was despicable.

2004 was a bitter shock to my system. How could so many people in the country I live in be so stupid to elect this idiot again? I didn’t think it was possible. It didn’t even matter to me who was running against Bush, but we should have elected that other person. Period. End of story. But we didn’t. I completely lost faith in Americans, and more so than any other time in my life, I was ashamed of my country. Who are these people? Who are these people who are so vastly different from me, who would give the car keys to blind and deaf man, with neurological ticks and spasms that should have rendered him completely ineligible to drive the big car that is our country? How many lives must he wreck before we hold him accountable for the poor decisions he made? What has this world come to?

And so, as this election approached, I withdrew. It’s not that I was afraid of being disappointed in the results, or that I’d feel even more isolated from my countrymen, or that I’d lose more faith in the entire election process (though it proved to be totally FUBAR for two previous national elections), but because I truly felt like Obama was the man. He was the one. He was my Kennedy. He was my Mandela. He was my Dr. King. He was my icon. He was the one who could change not just my life, but also the lives of many all over the world. The potential was immeasurable. And I dared not hope too hard, because a loss would be incalculable as well.

This is not to say that Senator McCain wouldn’t have been a great leader, because I do believe that he is a great man, and his life has been nothing but a long, continuous journey to serve this country, and that’s incredible. That’s devotion. I do not agree with many of his beliefs, but as a human being, he seemed more than capable of leading and helping our country out of its rut. Palin, I won’t even address. It’s not worth the effort, and if there’s no joke about her on the end, then it’s not worth hearing either. Perhaps McCain could’ve been a great president at another time, during another election, but his timing was not good, running against the man who I believed could heal our country. More than previous elections, this wasn’t so much about wanting to keep an opponent out of the White House, because this wasn’t even about McCain, but to bring into the White House someone who could rock the world.

There had been much talk about the Grant Park celebration, and many mentioned their desire to go. Now that the numbers are all in, you have to understand how much Illinois, and specifically Chicago, adores Obama. If he were to win or lose this election, we would watch him make the speech from his home turf, our own home turf. At no time was I tempted to go. At no time did I feel the desire to battle crowds, public transportation, and chaos to stand a mile away while waiting to hear who would win. I didn’t even anticipate watching the news coverage of the votes as they were tallied. I simply could not handle the thought that he might lose, and we would have four years of the unknown before he might have another opportunity to try again, putting a pause on progress I was so sure he would bring us. I would not attend the celebration at Grant Park, and I would not watch it on television.

This morning I awoke and put off going to vote. For a few moments, I considered not voting at all. The gravity of it made my soul hurt. Why couldn’t I just bury my head underground and come out in four years, when things would be different and I wouldn’t have to live through it? But I had to vote. I very nearly grabbed a red suede skirt and red blouse to wear today, but I realized that today, of all days, I should definitely wear blue. And so I did. And I left to vote. There were no lines. No stress. No waiting. It was easy, almost too easy, to give my name, be handed a ballot, and change the course of human history. I cast my ballot at 11:30 this morning, and mine was the 372nd ballot cast in my precinct. I trotted off to work with little on my mind other than what I’d do for lunch.

I spent the afternoon answering questions by patrons about where to go to vote, how to get to their polling place, and various other election questions. A few disappointed young people showed up wanting to register today, and I received more than one phone call from an elderly person voting for the first time in their lives, and wanting to know how to get to this place where they could vote. I was irritated, but it was a pleasant irritation. Good for them for trying, but dammit, why wait until 4 in the afternoon on election day to figure out where to go?!

As the evening progressed, I felt something get under my skin. I felt this wave of hope wash over me, and I sat in my office refreshing the websites as the numbers were rolling in. Marina and I instant messaged one another with stats and hopeful encouragement, but I felt myself daring to wish for a win. Let my country do the right thing this time. Let them make up for the past. Please.

I left just after 7 pm, drove home and made a lower-fat version of my spinach and artichoke dip, to graze on while I watched CNN’s coverage.

My brother joined me for a bit and we discussed how much we both felt is riding on this election. He didn’t vote. I think he succumbed to the same force I nearly gave in to, and rather than risk feeling defeated, he chose not to play the game. But the electricity was in the room. We were both talking louder than usual, laughing more, sharing stories of the things we think are going to be better soon, and it was good to have the company as they began predicting McCain’s defeat. But we are Cubs fans, and we know what it’s like to lose in the last inning, another season down the drain, so there was much reservation in our anticipation. We held our breath and were surprised with each state that went into Obama’s column. Every moment was fragile and delicate, yet full of energy.

I wished I hadn’t pulled away this entire year. I wished I’d done something, contributed to the campaign, and mostly, I wished I’d gone to Grant Park tonight. The isolation I felt could have faded away sooner if I felt like my hopes and dreams were shared by many, namely the many who also wanted an Obama win.

Eventually, I retired to my room to watch the remaining states report in, and though they were saying Obama would win, I was simply not prepared for how it would feel when that became official.

Across the television the words read that Obama was the winner.

There was no air. I gripped my chest and forced myself to breathe. My legs gave out and I collapsed on my chair. I don’t recall a time in my life when I went so quickly from cold, hard shock to sobbing uncontrollably. It was one of those snorting, catchy breathing, wheezing, humiliating, snot-running-down-your-face sobs. It took me aback. I could not stop myself from the blubbering mess I’d become. My hands and legs trembled, and I felt like laughing and throwing up all at once. I knew it meant something huge, but what exactly does it mean?

He won.

We all won.

We are one.

Because he is the one.

And I belong to a country again. Not because my candidate beat another candidate, but because things can only get better. My hope, and what brought me to tears tonight, is the belief that things won’t just get better, but it will get a lot better. And I feel myself dare to become emotionally invested in the future again.


Leelu said...

What have I told you about being clones? You're just the more eloquent version of me, I swear!

Lummox and I watched his acceptance speech with tears in our eyes and grins on our faces. For the first time in years, I can honestly say I'm proud to be an American.

Holly said...

This is beautiful and said better than I could say it in a million years. Thanks for putting your (and my thoughts) into words.

Mary Ellen said...

I am right there with you! I wore blue yesterday, and was a wreck all evening. I wouldn't let my husband pop the cork on the champagne he'd bought until the concession speech started, because I was so sure it would just all go wrong... and then when it didn't, I cried and laughed and cried some more, and can't stop smiling today.

librarian nervosa said...

We were all glued to CNN at work, the excitement was amazing and there were tears from people who lived through the sixties. Lots of champagne consumed last night. Well done America!!

Lots of cheers from Tasmania.

Anonymous said...

Aw me and Izzy creid too...we were in shock at first because there was a silent screen suddenly saying he was our 44th president, but then the tears came pouring down. I've never been so attached to an election! It was the most amazing thing in the world.

BeckEye said...

I hung out on the streets of Harlem last night. It was a pretty amazing experience. I've never seen people so excited about an election.