Thursday, November 6, 2008

After the Election

I keep finding myself in tears.

Which is ridiculous because I know that Obama is not the answer to all of our struggles. I know that government is not the answer to almost any of our struggles. But I can’t help but look at the news and find myself awestruck by what we achieved on Tuesday.

I took the day off and called voters in Florida and Pennsylvania reminding them of where their polling place was and how to vote. Which, as one person I called put it, seems “pretty damn obvious”…except it wasn’t. On Tuesday, and this weekend when my partner and I went to Philadelphia to door-knock, we encountered a staggering number of voters who didn’t know how to vote. They wanted to, though. They wanted to stand in line for hours so that they could tell future generations what they did during one of the most crucial elections in our country’s history. I was so glad that Amanda and I were able to help them find their polling place, tell them how to use the machines, remind them of what IDs they needed, provide them rides, and even provide numbers to call should they encounter any discrimination. Volunteering for the Obama Campaign felt like community building… I haven’t really felt that since leaving Minnesota. (Image description: The Obama “Hope” poster. In deep red, pale blue, and a yellow cream color an artist has rendered a profile image of Barack Obama gazing towards the horizon. Underneath we see “HOPE” in large letters.)

Clearly a lot of other people felt that way as well. Amanda and I colored in maps of the US as we watched election coverage come in, and the streaks of blue we saw across the states filled me with a sense of community that shook a lot of my presumptions and prejudices. I was raised in Indiana, and I never thought I’d see it go blue, but as my brother put it in an email to me “we were always blue…it just took someone special to bring it out!”

I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s a man, or because he’s Black, or because he grew up in poverty. I’m male and grew up in a lower economic bracket than many of my friends, but that doesn’t mean I only want leaders who reflect my background. I voted for him because he took his experiences with racism, poverty, and male privilege and decided to do something with what he had learned. His policies reflect his understanding of how the majority of people live their lives, and how governmental policies can often oppress more than they uplift. I voted for Obama because he had substance behind his rhetoric, and because he surrounded himself with people who fit his vision for the US, not people who would give him political uplift.

Moreover, my vote wasn’t for or against any single issue. I looked at his overall plan and knew that issues I disagreed with could be dealt with individually. In a depressing series of discussions with gay co-workers and friends, many pointed to Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality as a reason not to vote. As if marriage was the only thing that mattered, or if a person’s lack of support necessarily translated into being against something.

Despite that, voters across the US connected with what Obama had to say…with the belief in the strength of grassroots organizing, of the value of individuals, of the need to respect and listen to all people. Overwhelmingly, despite the media’s insistence that Black voters voted for him because of his race, Black voters responded that they voted with him because he had the policies that would untie our country and help the majority of the people. Even in his acceptance speech Obama emphasized this, saying he would listen to the concerns of voters who had gone with McCain.

I believe he will. I certainly hope he will. After all, Obama’s presence in the White House is only one of many steps we need to take to bring across real change. At the end of the day, Obama is still a politician, and he is still just one individual. We have to work in our neighborhoods, in our local communities talking one-on-one with each other. We have to challenge Obama administration policies, push for appropriate visibility, and continue to work to overcome discrimination and prejudices. Obama’s presence may make some things easier as we see a House, Senate, and White House more open to acceptance and justice…but governmental justice can look very different than real justice.

But for now, for these next few days, I’m riding this flood of emotion. Feeling overwhelmed, awed, and impressed with my country I will be savoring these moments when I encounter, as I’m sure we will, opposition and prejudice in the future. I am bundling up this feeling of community so that I can unfurl it in darker days and wrap myself in its warmth.

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