The task of putting this election into historical context is too great for me to attempt. I will leave that charge to more knowledgeable, more serious men. Instead, I humbly offer the following—my own journey to hope.
Since Senator Obama announced his candidacy on the steps of the Illinois State Capital on February 10th, 2007, I’ve had hope. Hope that helped me pick up the phone to call strangers. Hope that helped me place signs on crowded streets. Hope that helped me talk to loved ones about previously-not-discussed and potentially-destabilizing subjects. Hope steadied my gaze on the future. Hope hardened my heart for the long struggle ahead. Hope prepared me for everything…except this. Let me explain.
During the 2000 election I was a mostly well-meaning (but mostly dumb) 22-year-old college kid in Boston living off my parents and writing goofy stories for easy grades. Politics didn’t concern me. Instead of forming an actual opinion on matters, I defaulted to the seductive and cynical attitude that campaigning/canvassing/calling/voting didn’t matter because “…all politicians are the same anyway, man.” I used this attitude to justify my decision to skip the 2-hour bus ride home to vote in our small town school gym.
At the time I considered George W. Bush to be just another Washington-insider posing as a Washington-outsider. I thought he was both harmless and useless. Gore didn’t inspire me either (that came later). I thought he was a policy-wonk taking the traditional route to the White House while trying to skirt the issue of Bill’s infidelities. I didn’t vote.
I came to political consciousness during Governor Howard Dean’s primary campaign in 2004. His words sounded an awful lot like…honesty. And, boy, did his skepticism of the Iraq War sure match my own. Watching Dean’s people-powered campaign inspired me enough to place a Dean for America sticker on my rusted ’93 pickup and drive it into my Republican father’s driveway. It was my first act of political assertion. And it felt good. I was beginning to fight for the world as I thought it should be. …Until, of course, the weenies in the main stream media declared Dean’s chances over after his “scream.” I again cloaked myself in cynical bitterness, because “…the media chooses the President anyway, man.”
Then came the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I wanted oh-so-much to like Kerry. And for ten minutes after his first debate with President Bush, I did. But his hunting, windsurfing, everyman act wore thin. It was just more of the same. I wanted a leader. Not a millionaire playing dress-up for votes.
Out strolled a freshman Senator from Illinois. He spoke with passion. And humility. And refreshing honesty. In one breath he called himself “a skinny kid with a funny name” and raised the level of debate in this country to foundational themes long ignored for fifty years. He spoke above the political talking points at the level of the people. When he started singing the pre-scripted praises of John Kerry, he was asking people to look at a candle off-stage instead of the bonfire in front of them. Obama was the burning energy a tired America needed. Kerry who?
From the first day of this campaign, I have watched Senator Obama conduct himself unlike his predecessors. He promised a citizen-centered, grassroots campaign. He, accordingly, rewrote the rules of running for office to favor the people over the powerful. He turned down money from lobbyists and special interest groups. He gave lengthy speeches and avoided the soundbites. He stuck to the issues—never throwing a punch just because it was easy or played well in the media. He raised more money than any candidate in history…in $25 chunks. He called on Americans to believe, once again, in the power and foundations of democracy. He told us this crazy contraption could fly and today—my fellow Americans—we soar.
Winning, I never expected. From all of Obama’s speeches, I took to heart the immensity of the challenges and the grueling nature of the struggle ahead. When thinking ahead to today, I considered only the continued path we must march to fight the corporate neocon goons’ attempts to block an Obama Administration. Or the racists. Or the Supreme Court. Or the Martians. A landslide and a subsequent McCain concession never entered my head as a possibility. Last night, while watching Obama win, I felt the sudden quaking vulnerability of an unshielded heart. I cried from exhaustion.
America has her leader. All Americans.
Today, we move forward, reborn with strength in our hands and steadiness underfoot. We may not be able to accomplish all that we hope in the next four years, but we—the people—will proceed confident in the knowledge that change is possible. My generation now knows the size and shape of a movement. We now know how to mobilize and connect and drive our will down the throat of Washington. The old guard is being retired. Hope is the fuel that powers democracy. And Barack Obama has refueled a generation of Americans.