I haven’t gone into hiding or anything, I’m just trying to figure out how to put into words all that I’m feeling as a result of Barack Obama’s election into the Presidency of this great country.
I am filled with pride, first and foremost, that MANY people in this country have done just as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once only dreamed of — judge a man on the content of his character and not on the color of his skin. At the same time I’m filled with an overwhelming sadness that there are still MANY people out there who don’t support Obama ONLY because of the color of his skin. As a nation, we’ve come a long, long way in the past 200+ years, but we have so many more roads to travel.
I’m also just going to put this out here, too — it is not my intent to offend anyone, just to make an observation and, hopefully, give something to chew on. According to all the statistics I’ve seen, somewhere in the vicinity of 95% of the black voters pulled the lever for Barack Obama. They are proud of their son and all that he symbolizes — having reached the highest peak of any person of color in this country. But those very same people, who struggled for centuries to earn even basic rights in this country, didn’t see the irony in what they were doing when they cast their votes in California, Arkansas and Florida to deny a group of people basic civil rights — something they struggled so long and so hard for. Had their civil rights been put to popular vote, they wouldn’t have had the right to vote themselves, nor would we ever had heard of Barack Obama.
Anyway — here’s MY Election 2008 story…it’s a good one!
When I got out of the Army 19 years ago, I promised myself that I would never, EVER again set my alarm clock for anything earlier than 6:00 AM. I’ve pretty much stuck to that promise. However, on Monday night, I purposefully and excitedly set my alarm for 5:30 AM. My plan was to get up early, shower, and try to be at the polls by sometime around 6:00 AM.
I went to bed a little after 11:00 — knowing I’d stayed up way too late, but unable to contain my excitement for the following day’s history making election. I tossed and turned all night long. I kept waking up and looking at the clock thinking “Is it time to get up and vote yet?”
The alarm went off as set, and I rose without the normal daily grumbling. I showered, dressed, poured some coffee, and set off for the polling station. I arrived just a little after 6 to find an already hustling, busy environment. A line was coming out the door but, inside the vestibule of the tiny little church, an election official was asking people for their street address so he could look up their voting district and point them to the proper line inside. I told him “I know I’m in ED 4,” and he ushered me in. I found the table where I was to check in, and there were only 2 people in line ahead of me. I would be voter #3 in my district that morning.
I checked in, and with a wait of only a half dozen or so minutes, I found myself inside the voting booth, about to cast a vote that would make history in this nation. I voted for Barack Obama/John Biden for President and Vice President, Eric Massa for Congress, David Nachbar for Senate, Joanne Winslow for Supreme Court Judge, Joan Kohout for Family Court Judge, and Susan John for State Assembly — Democrats all. But not just Democrats — friends. In the course of the past 10 months since our own historical ruling granting recognition of same-sex marriages in the state, we have had the honor and privilege of meeting all of these people and have come to know them as good, decent, hard-working people who want to make a difference in the world.
By 6:30 I was on the road again and decided to just go to work. I arrived at the parking lot by 6:45 and decided I’d just go in and get started — probably with less distraction than I’d have for the rest of the day. I got a lot done between 6:45 and 8:00 when folks started coming in to work. I’m thinking I should work those hours all the time. NOT!
Once things got noisier and more distracting, I decided to take a bit of a break, and checked in at Facebook, here, MySpace and at some of the blogs I really like. I read the news, checked to see if there were any election results, and set up cnn.com’s live feed to listen to the news.
At about 11:00 Tuesday morning, I packed up my stuff and headed downtown to the Monroe County Democratic Committee Headquarters where Lisa and I had volunteered to help out for the day. And here is one of the the amazing parts of my story.
Our job was to help people that had been turned away from the polls, for whatever reason, to fill out an application and a new voter registration, escort them in to see one of the dozen or more volunteer attorneys we had there that day, who would then go over the application with them to help them get a court order so that they could vote, and have their vote counted.
Now, you may or may not have seen that actor Tim Robbins was turned away from the polls because of some problem with his registration status. He was told he would only be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot which, in most cases, doesn’t even HAVE to be counted in the election. Not satisfied with that option, Mr. Robbins sought legal help and returned with a court order allowing him to vote, on the machines, where his vote could not be challenged. This is what we did on Tuesday — help people get a court order.
Many people we saw were upset that, when they renewed their car registration or driver license at DMV, they had checked the box asking them if they wanted to be registered to vote but that DMV process seems to have failed them completely. We had young people who said that they had registered at school or in a citizen drive but were turned away as not being registered. We had some tell us that their church had participated in a voter registration drive but that they had been left off the rolls. One woman I helped was 72 years old and had NEVER voted before in her entire life. She needed assistance just filling out the forms but was more upset about the fact that she had been told TWO MONTHS AGO that she wouldn’t need to register. One young lady had gotten married two weeks ago and had already gotten her driver’s license changed but missed the registration deadline to change her registered name. One man had been the victim of predatory lending and had been ousted from his home just days before and had, for some reason, been rejected at the polls. Two men were there to get absentee ballots for their wives who were in labor at that time. Another young man who had been rejected at the polls had been driven to us by one of his college professors for help in registering (she drove him more than 60 miles to get that court order) because she felt he had been treated dishonestly.
Over the next nine hours, I sat with people checking over their forms, and then escorted them down the corridor into the “war room” to see a lawyer. In all, we did just about 600 court orders on Tuesday. And the beauty of what we did that day was that each and every person we saw resulted in a vote. There were other volunteers there as well — Lisa worked there from 8:00 AM until 9:00, I “only” worked from 11:00 until 9:00. There were people who were waiting for phone calls to tell them where they could go pick up people who needed a ride to the polls. Others answered phones to help people determine where their polling place was located. There were people making phone calls on behalf of candidates. There were, as I mentioned before, more than two dozen lawyers throughout the day that volunteered their time to come in and help those disenfranchised voters have their voices heard.
I am truly in awe of the people who gave so selflessly and tirelessly of their time to ensure that all votes were counted, regardless of affiliation. I was proud to be part of such a wonderful group of people.
I put 15,499 steps on my feet that day. That equates to more than 6 miles — I say “I walked 15,500 steps for Obama.” And truly, I did!
We closed up shop at the Democratic Headquarters a little after nine. The Committee was putting on an Election Party at the Hyatt Regency downtown. We were tired, my feet were screaming loudly and heatedly, I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was tired, it was late, I had to get up and work the next morning…all the reasons why we should have just gone home and fallen into bed. But we were still pretty stoked and made the decision to at least stop in and see what was going on.
We got to the Hyatt around 9:30. We buzzed around the Grand Ballroom for a little while, saying hello to people we knew, and bumping into some that we had helped earlier in the day. The place was already pretty full of people. There were people with children in tow, of all races, beaming at the opportunity to not only be a part of history, but at being able to have their children witness it. The energy in the room, the excitement, was everywhere. You could reach out and touch it. It was a living entity all by itself. You could sense that this room was ready to explode with the news we all knew was coming. After all, Obama wasn’t just ahead, he was way ahead!
We had been invited upstairs to one of the candidates’ suites, where the election results were going to be watched, so we decided it was a good place to go, just so we could get off our feet. We went upstairs and greeted our friends, and visited several candidates’ rooms. There was food everywhere, so we made some bad difficult choices for dinner, and just enjoyed the excited chatter of everyone around us. After about an hour or so, I wanted to go back downstairs. Lisa agreed and, as we went toward the elevators, we discovered that the candidates were heading downstairs, too.
And so, about 10:45 we re-entered that Grand Ballroom. In the hour we had been gone, it had filled to near capacity and people were excitedly chatting with each other, celebratory drinks in hand, some clapping each other on the back, some knuckle-bumping, some shaking hands. The Chair of the Democratic Committee took the podium and began to introduce the local candidates, regardless of whether they had won or lost. After just a short few minutes, we heard a commotion begin on the side of the room closest to the exits, not far from where we were standing. We heard people counting down and, when we looked up on the jumbo screen in the room, we saw the words “Polls Close: ” and the seconds ticking down. When those numbers reached zero, the electoral votes were updated, showing Barack Obama the clear and undisputed winner.
What followed next cannot be described by mere words. Bedlam. Pandemonium. Cheers. Screaming. Chants of “O-BA-MA!” Crying. Jumping. Dancing. Cabbage Patching. High Fives. Hugs. Jubilation. Joyousness. Exhilaraion.
All around us, perfect strangers shared one moment of solidarity with each other, celebrating the new world that we had ALL helped create. I was fiercely proud of being an American at that moment. I watched in amazement as people processed what they had just witnessed. I saw men weeping with joy — openly, across racial lines. I saw children, a little confused about the chaos, being told by their Moms and Dads how proud they should be to have been a part of it. I saw an elderly black woman sitting on her chair/walker just beaming proudly, nodding her head knowingly as if to say “NOW we can truly tell our children that they CAN do anything!” At that moment in time, there were no blacks, whites, Asians or Hispanics. There were no gays or straights. There were no Catholics, Protestants, Mormons or Jews. There was no upper, middle or lower class. In that moment, we were all one people. I saw the best definition of humanity in that moment. I cried. I still get emotional remembering it.
According to news crews later that night, the celebration and cheering lasted for more than 4 minutes. The Chairman tried to get back to the program, but had lost the crowd pretty much by that point, poor guy. As each subsequent candidate got to the podium, hey had to shout to be heard over the crowd noise — clearly they were not in any mood for speeches, they wanted to celebrate!
Shortly afterward, Lisa and I called it a night and went home. I kicked off my shoes, poured a glass of wine, grabbed the laptop and went into our room. I undressed and crawled into bed, with the laptop open, and the television turned to CNN. We were both way too keyed up to just lay down and try to sleep. We watched some commentary and some video of celebrations throughout the country. And we watched Barack Obama.
“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 spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.
“We are, and always will be, the United States of America.
“But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.
“I promise you, we as a people will get there.
“In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
“And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.
“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 doubts 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.
And I cried. When I finally dared to look at Lisa, I saw her wiping her own eyes. Softly, she said to me “This is the next generation’s John Kennedy.” She’s right — Kennedy was so idealistic, and had such great hopes for and belief in this country, in all the good it was capable of. Barack Obama is much the same. His idealism is a welcome change from the old regimes, on both sides of the political aisle, and I hope that he keeps his fresh-faced idealism and doesn’t become jaded by the Washington monster machine.
I tossed and I turned again Tuesday night — too keyed up to really sleep. I knew that the next day was going to be a new first day for me, and I was anxious to get there.
I have, in the past two days, seen a lot of hateful racist comments about Obama. Comments about his middle name, comments about his race, comments about his mother, even stupid ignorant hateful comments about his grandmother whose sin (in their hate-filled minds) was to love her grandchild unconditionally.
But I will not let them tear me down. I anticipate an Obama administration more than I have ever looked forward to any other new President since I was old enough to vote. I look forward to changes in this country. I look forward to peace, progress, prosperity. I look forward to the day when another young man or woman like Barack Obama can aspire to greatness and know, without any reservations, that he or she CAN make a difference, regardless of who his or her parents are or what type of social or economic environment from which he or she comes. I look forward to a day when ALL citizens of this great nation are treated equally. I look forward to a day when civil rights are NOT put to citizen vote but are instead enshrined forever, in every state and federal constitution and statute.
I believe Americans are inherently good. Spoiled a bit, but inherently good. And I know we have great potential to achieve good things together.