Archive for November, 2008

Yes, We Can

Eight years ago, my school choir was asked to sing at the inauguration of George W. Bush. I didn’t have exceptional political awareness at that time, but I knew that I was a budding Democrat, and that if I had just been a few months older, I would have cast my vote for Al Gore. I knew that the election was not George W. Bush’s for the taking, but that he took it anyway. I successfully put my anger aside, though, and celebrated my opportunity to be a part of history, in a city that I loved. I was overjoyed by the experience. I could not have known then what heartache and tragedy the country was going to face.

Four years ago, I was watching coverage of the Democratic National Convention with my mom and sister. I was ecstatic that I was going to be able to vote in my first presidential election, despite the fact that John Kerry did not inspire in me any sort of grand, hopeful feelings. I watched Barack Obama give his fabled speech, and was astonished that such inspiration could exist in the current political climate. That very night, I went to Barack Obama’s website in an attempt to send an email to his campaign, saying that I looked forward to voting for him as my president. The website was down, though, overloaded with people like me who had just witnessed the brilliant future of their political party. “He’s going to be president,” my sister and I told my mom. “He is going to be president one day.” My mom wistfully looked at us, and tried to gently tell us that she didn’t think there was any way that this country was ready for a black president.

Five days ago, I cried happy tears while I was walking to my car, after voting for Barack Obama. That night, I watched with panic as the early numbers from Virginia and Indiana didn’t look good, and I gasped with relief when he won Ohio. “That’s it,” I said. “It’s over. It’s done.” And not long after that, it was done. McCain was delivering what I considered to be a very classy concession speech, and people all over the world were crying, celebrating the change that had come. It was over, it was a new beginning.

Today, I am still giddy with relief and excitement and hope and anticipation for this new chapter in American history. That which I believed in over four years ago has arrived. That which my mother saw as an impossibility is a reality. I know the problems facing the country are great, and the world’s collective ills can never fully be cured. For the first time, though, since exercising my political awareness, I feel like things might be better than they were before. The anger I had to squelch when I sang for George W. Bush nearly eight years ago has been replaced with a hope that wells up inside me on a daily basis and comes out through my tear ducts. Barack Obama is going to be my president, mine, and what’s better is that he’ll be yours, too.

I am hopeful. I am happy. I am excited.


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Cupcakes for Change.

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My brief time at Wellesley College was literally the happiest extended period of time in my life. It’s easy to attribute such joy to the rosy glow of hindsight, but this isn’t something I only recognize while looking back – I knew at the time that despite the stress of high academic standards – I was profoundly happy. It’s one reason why I took pictures so obsessively while I was in college. I knew how much I would always want to remember even the smallest and goofiest things I did with my friends. Like making peep pie or the lengths my friends went to to get me to stay away from the vending machine.

More than a few times at Wellesley, I would be sitting in a friend’s dorm room, doing nothing more consequential than watching an episode of “Scrubs” and pretending to study, and I would think to myself, “This moment is perfect. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

In many ways, Wellesley is an imperfect institution, but in almost every way, it was the perfect place for me. After a lifetime of feeling awkward and out of place, I absolutely belonged at Wellesley. At 5:30pm, waiting in line for dinner at Beebe dining hall, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Walking with friends to the student center in the cool night air, in search of brownies and bags of chips, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Walking back from the library with a backpack stuffed full of inter-library loan books for my history paper, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy now, but I’m not nearly as happy as I was then, and one of my greatest fears is that that was the happiest in my life that I’ll ever be. Though I love Louisville, and though I loving living here, there is nothing in my life that gives me the same sense of belonging as that place.

Two and a half years after moving back from Boston, my memories of Wellesley are growing increasingly fuzzy. My experiences there feel increasingly distant. It’s starting to feel like maybe Wellesley was never even something I had in my life at all, but maybe just a really great TV show I watched. Instead of feeling sad because I’ve left Wellesley, I feel disconnected from the idea that I was ever there and ever that happy.

I talked to a friend from Wellesley tonight, though, for over an hour. Though I still consider her a close friend, I hadn’t talked to her in a while. Talking to her made Wellesley a little more real again, which has made me a little more sad again, too. I can remember building a fort in my residence hall’s living room, and recognize that I own that memory, it is mine, and the lump in my throat is back.

Every year at Baccalaureate, my choir at Wellesley sang a song called “The Road Home.” Every year, the song made me cry, because of the line, “There is no such beauty as where you belong.” I knew then, and I know now, how true that is.

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My sister and I spent the morning volunteering for Obama. I’ve spent the past few months thinking to myself, “Gee, I really should put forth a little effort and go volunteer,” but today was the first time I actually did anything about it, since May when I did voter registration.

Louisville is conveniently located right across the river from Indiana, which meant I was able to sign up to volunteer in a swing state. I told my mom about it, and there was a look of pride on her face. “Just think,” she said. “Maybe Indiana will swing for Obama, and you will have been a part of making that happen!”

Indeed, I’ve been thinking. Volunteering was a chance for me to join the noble crowd of those who (hopefully) helped Barack Obama become president of the United States. So, my sister and I signed up to go out this morning–to drag myself ourselves out of bed at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, and drive across the river to Indiana so that I could knock on people’s doors. Yes we can! …wake up early for Barack.

When I got to the campaign office, I was heartened to see the number of people there, and to see the number of people who had driven there from Kentucky. I talked with a woman standing next to me who said she hadn’t voted since 1988, but that she believes in Barack Obama. I talked with a girl who was frustrated because she couldn’t vote because she would turn 18 three weeks after the election takes place, but who was enthusiastic about volunteering. I got a nice fuzzy feeling about what I was going to spend my morning doing when I was handed my packet of names and addresses, despite the fact that, honestly, knocking on strange doors and speaking to strange people about politics is a pretty nightmarish scenario for a pronounced introvert like myself.

Such fears must be disregarded! Larger issues are at stake than my irrelevant shyness! Our assignment was to ask people for whom they planned on voting, and to then to strongly encourage Obama supporters to vote early, or to at least make sure they planned to vote. They stressed how important it was that we get to all the names in the packet, how critical it was that we told people about the importance of early voting in a swing state like Indiana, and how important it was that we try to engage the people with whom we were speaking.

My sister and I set off, driving several miles to a nearby Sellersburg, and began looking for our first house. I soon discovered, though, that Indiana, or at least Sellersburg, does not follow typical locational conventions. The numbering didn’t make any sense. House numbers on one side of the street would be 514, 516, 518, 522. Where is 520? Who stole 520??

And that was when you could find a house number in the first place. Several houses were simply without house numbers. Others had their house numbers printed in such small type on the mailbox next to the door that one would have to get all up in the house’s front stoop in order to really figure out which house it was.

But we were not discouraged. Confused by Indiana, sure, but not discouraged. When we walked up and down a street, looking for a seemingly mythical 4122, we cheered ourselves for the amount of exercise we were getting. Seemingly Aimless Wandering For Change!

At the first address we went to, there was no one living there by the name on our sheet. At the second house we went to, a teenage boy in boxers opened the door and said his parents were out of town. And then at house after house after house, no one answered the door. We came to a house where an elderly man answered the door. As soon as I introduced myself and said that I was a volunteer for the Obama campaign, he yelled at us, “Ma’am, I have no interest in politics,” and slammed the door in our face.

We drove up and down a busy road, looking for a house with the number 1092. Based on the few house numbers we could see, it seemed that the numbering went straight from 1050 or so to 7550. We eventually gave up, assuming that the 1092 had been some sort of mistake we couldn’t solve. Now, looking for 1092 Indiana Ave, Sellersburg, Indiana on Google Maps, it comes up with nothing but an empty lot.

We moved on to a subdivision, where we spoke with a McCain supporter and a man who had already voted, but sternly refused to tell us for whom he had voted.

“I wonder if I should put him down for McCain,” my sister said as we walked away.

Mostly, we got no response. We stuck our fliers in the storm door, and moved on to the next address on the list.

After 10 minutes of driving around looking for the last street on our list, I called the campaign office and explained that I had three names left on my list, but that I could not find the street that these addresses were on. The coordinator asked where we were, and when I told him Sellersburg, he said, “No wonder you’re lost.” He searched for the street, online and directed us to it. The reason we hadn’t been able to find it was because there was literally no street sign.

On that last, sign-less street, we came to the last name on the our list. We knocked on the door, and a woman opened the door with a smile. I explained who we were and where we were from, and she responded enthusiastically. She told us that she was voting for Obama, and that she was thinking about voting early, because she was pregnant, and she didn’t want to have to wait in a long line on election day. She asked for extra fliers, for her mom, “who thinks Barack is her boyfriend.” She introduced us to her two-year old daughter, who was hanging around her ankles and who told us that she was a fairy princess for Halloween. She chatted with us, she smiled and thanked us, and she told us to have a good weekend.

It was a nice way to end the morning. I was really glad that in the end, I got to speak to one person our of the dozens on our list who was planning on voting for Obama, and planning on voting early at that.

I know that the campaign needed somebody to knock on those doors, even if those doors weren’t going to be answered, and I was glad that I was able to help. And truthfully, I’m ambivalent about my seemingly fruitless morning. On the one hand, I can’t help but wish that those hours didn’t feel quite so meaningless. I don’t mind that I spent my time doing it, I just wonder how much difference I really made, stuffing fliers in doors and searching for houses that don’t exist.

On the other hand, part of me is glad so many people weren’t home or weren’t answering their door. It kept the number of people with whom I actually had to talk to a minimum, and we were finished in time for lunch at the candy store next to the campaign office.

I did it though, I drove to Indiana and knocked on doors and left fliers when they didn’t answer. But really, my efforts this morning seemed almost symbolic, and any pride I feel if Indiana does go for Obama will be undeserved.

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