This is more serious and long than I usually get here, but the election has really affected me somehow. I saw so many people cheering and jumping around Tuesday night and I just didn't feel that. I do feel the historical moment, and I am hopeful yet cautious. But I also feel that I finally have someone in politics I can relate to a little bit. And I almost cried when I walked to the bus on Wednesday through my 38% black neighborhood and saw a very long line in front of the news stand of people wanting a paper for a souvenir. Somehow, that made it all seem real to me.
I was a Laurie come lately to the cult of Obama. I mean, he seemed cool, but I was leaning a little more towards Hillary during the primaries, I don't like the 2 party system at all, I am not registered in a party, and all mainstream politicians are too conservative for me. But somehow, as the election came closer, I got swept up in the excitement. I more and more did not want McCain, I more and more started to believe that Obama would be different. I started doing a little volunteering and I ended up calling 19 people in Missouri to remind them to vote. I still held back some, though, and I think I largely did not want to be disappointed. I was thinking about it the other day. For the first presidential election I could vote in, I voted for Clinton. In 2000 both Gore and Bush left me cold, and if I hadn't been in the jungle and unable to mail my absentee ballot back, I would have voted for Nader. My vast dislike of Bush lead me to support Kerry, and to knock on doors in Florida to get out the vote, even though Kerry did not inspire me at all. So really, for most of my adult life my options for president had not been exciting. There was no one I could get behind.
What is different about Obama? Maybe if he were running right after Clinton it wouldn't be such a big deal, but I am really happy we are going to have a president who thinks about things. Who understands the world in complex and nuanced. Who sees the US is not perfect, and wants to do something to make it better. The blustery patriotism of the last little while is not to my taste at all. I think it makes us forget how much we have to improve, how many people are left out of the "American Dream" and how stacked the cards are against many realizing that dream.
I have to admit, I never thought it was crazy that Michelle Obama said she hadn't been proud of the US in her life. Why should she, necessarily? Because we are big? Because we are a democracy? Because we are rich? In some ways we do have impressive ideals, but it seems to me we have squandered a lot of opportunities to live up to those ideals. This election, though, has made me proud of the USA. And I want to say thank you to it.
Thank you. Thank you for proving how awesome you can be on Tuesday. Thank you for realizing the badness of the last 8 years, for recognizing we have been going down the wrong path, and that we can be better. Thank you for not being as racist as I had feared. Thank you for letting more people into our political process. Voting rates of people of color and young people were up, voter registrations were up, and voter turnout was historic. Back when I took Latin American Studies I read about how a democracy cannot be successful without participation. How we need to think about who is participating, who is fully invested in their citizenship, and if people are not participating, why? If large parts of the population are not involved in the process, are we truly a democracy? What structures are shutting them out? Is it really their choice?
Before I was into Obama, I thought a lot of his rhetoric about change was too much. Unrealistic. But upon reflection, and from listening to more of what he says, it is not a big change we are looking for. I think the change of who voted, of who was at the rally in Grant Park, of all the diverse people in my neighborhood cheering and high fiving, of www.change.gov, of the Obama-Biden administration's anti-discrimination hiring policy (The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law. ), this change is a good first step. And I am excited to see where it takes us.
And finally, this part of Obama's acceptance speech spoke right to me, and where I was, and explains why I feel like I will finally have a president who understands me a little bit: "It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day." I was cynical. I thought there was little we could do to change, but I hope I have been proven a tiny bit wrong.