Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Rocking the Vote
Rebecca Woolf of Girls Gone Child took the words right out of my mind and inspired me to record my own political musings with her post on faith and hope in politics and marriage. Four years ago, I was full of audacious hope and giddy with the new love buzz I felt for Barack Obama. I cried as he gave his victory speech in Grant Park to a crowd that seemed to vibrate with enthusiasm.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled –- Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of 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 cried because, well, let's face it, the man has a way with words, but more than that, I knew how much his victory would mean for the students I taught at the time. I knew that the next day, I would go back to school and stand in front of five classes of primarily black and Hispanic kids who would have real, honest-to-God proof that someone who looks like them can rise to the highest position in the land. I think I half expected that the election of the first non-white president would fill my students with unbridled enthusiasm for learning and put them on the fast track to college, full of new-found motivation... I know. Obama tried to temper my expectations that very night, to remind me that the election was not the change but the opportunity, but I was having none of it.
What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek -– it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers -– in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.
In 2008, I hung everything on Obama. After eight years of Bush and Cheney and weapons of mass destruction and Mission Accomplished, Obama's election felt like the dawning of a new era, a breath of fresh air, a new start. Everything would be different, and, oh there was much that needed changing. I knew it wouldn't happen overnight, but I was full of hope that our new president would: end partisan back-biting, jump start the economy, solve the immigration problem, pass healthcare reform, enact sane gun laws, end two wars, fix the education system, push clean energy, establish a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, work for the civil rights of the LGBT community and make my 135 students realize the value of education while simultaneously recognize the long-suffering saintliness of their English teacher. In November of 2008, I was a newlywed, married less than four months, but I was also on a honeymoon with Barack Obama. It was all champagne (literally, we ran across the street to the Vons and bought a bottle as soon as results were finalized) and roses and promises of the halcyon days to come.
To those who seek peace and security -– we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright –- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.
For that is the true genius of America -– that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This is our time –- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth –- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.
Four years later, I see him (Obama, not Tom) a little more clearly. I am not as easily wooed by his eloquence (but hot damn - he can turn a phrase), and I have accepted that he is a politician, not a white knight. So when I cast my vote for Obama today, I did it with clear eyes and no illusions but with full faith in his integrity. I voted for him because I believe in women making their own choices about their health and their bodies. I voted for him because I believe that when two people are in love and want to commit their lives to each other, we should celebrate, not denigrate, that. I voted for him because I believe that we have a responsibility to protect the environment. I voted for him because I want the person who appoints the next Supreme Court justices to share these values. Finally, I voted for Obama because I believe that ensuring that every American has access to affordable health care and a quality education will go a long way toward encouraging the kind of innovation that both parties agree is an integral part of the American economy. [Rob Delaney makes this argument much better than I can.]
Whichever way the election goes, I will be thankful that I live in a country in which transitions of power happen peacefully. I'll take the endless teeth gnashing from the talking heads over riots in the street any day.