Nov 8, 2008
This week I said, for the first time in my life, "I am proud to be an American." That doesn't mean I haven't been an American, or don't appreciate our great nation, only that I didn't connect with this country in any visceral way. It was just the country we happened to live in, a collection of states I'd never been to, a political system that seemed severely flawed. I'd never been politically-minded, because it seemed like politics was for Other People: the rich, the religious, the academic and the truly insane. I am none of those things, and so I never sought to include myself. I never saw myself as someone the government would help or hinder; I felt okay with being a non-entity, a person who would make their way through the world no matter who was in office. I voted little, and when I did, made uninformed choices; I had very little faith in how much much my voice would be heard. I had very little faith in the process, and in the leadership of this country.
In the beginning of the Barack Obama campaign, 'HOPE' was a dirty word; it was a word you only threw around when there was nothing left to cling to. But I gave up hope for America, and the things that I wanted for her, a long time ago, so that word was completely accurate. I thought, 'maybe we can teach English in another country for a year when the GOP wins again--maybe we can check out Mexico, because I've never been--maybe Canada or Timbuktu holds a brighter future for us, because I cannot go through this again'. Thanks to the last eight years with this administration, I thought that to be an American meant to silently struggle, and to never have a say in the outcome. I talked with friends--'rich and poor, young and old, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled'--and most of them were as disinterested in the process as myself. But we weren't disinterested, only disappointed with the direction our country was going in. A lot of people, two of them my downstairs neighbors, implied they weren't interested in voting, and I actually felt the same.
As the campaign went forward, I began to get interested. I didn't understand what 'change' Obama was talking about when it seemed like EVERYTHING IN OUR NATION needed a change. Like everyone else, I questioned his experience, background, and near-celebrity status--but I was still interested. Pretty soon, I had bookmarked The Huffington Post, Politico, NPR, The National Review, The Atlantic, CNN, Newser, Bill O'Reilly, and many others, so I could do political research online. I wanted the left and right opinions, so that I could form an opinion of my own down the middle. I got more involved. Once Obama won the ticket, I wrote in favor of his campaign on my blog; I had never taken a political side before. I got a lot of heat from scared people--each one more religious than the last, which was interesting, and seems par for the course when it comes to uninformed fearmongering--who screamed TERRORIST! MUSLIM! ARAB! SOCIALIST! COMMUNIST! KENYA! BLACK! LIBERAL! INEXPERIENCED! CELEBRITY! But to me, the only negative thing on that list was 'terrorist', which he clearly wasn't, and maybe 'Communist', but that just made me laugh. People really thought that he could be elected and then ALL OF A SUDDEN turn this country into a Communist one? Serious LOL. Obama's so-called inexperience was unimportant to me once Sarah Palin was on the GOP ticket; I listened to a wide-range of hypocrisy over it, but used it to do more research into 'my candidate'. I was patient with the screaming anti-Obama folks, because I know that fear can completely rule your life without even being aware of it; I saw that 'hope' was a luxury those people could not afford, and that it was easier to stay mired in the COUNTRY FIRST mindset. But when I saw the COUNTRY FIRST banners, the message I got was: PEOPLE LAST. I tried convincing my neighbors, my online friends, and my extended family to vote, with very little success--but I was still involved. I was trying to be a part of the process, for the first time ever.
I wore a pin supporting Obama, which was unusual for me, but I wanted to be a part of the larger discussion; people for and against Obama struck up conversations with me, and I had a chance to get many different viewpoints. I met like-minded people, and we did what we could for the campaign: researching the truth, joining MoveOn.org, getting people registered in their counties, trying to convince our hopeless friends to vote. I felt like I was included, finally, in this thing called America; I had a voice. Not that America had been specifically excluding me, but I finally understood what it meant to stand behind a candidate. We were fighting the fabled 'good fight'.
On Election Day, I stayed away from the internet, and we don't have a working TV, so I didn't have to turn that on, either. I didn't talk to very many people, and I couldn't sit still long enough to blog. I knew my life was going to be changed, for better or worse, and I just wanted to be quiet. Self-reflection is one of the cornerstones of moving forward, and I knew, whether Obama won or not, I wanted to move forward in my life. The 'hope' this campaign has given me lies more in how I feel personally, and less how I feel politically: I just want to be a better person. And thanks to this campaign--one that I felt was run with integrity--I feel that working to better our country did and will enable me to better myself. I don't just mean professionally or financially, but in my family, relationships, and community--everywhere. What better way to lead by example to my 10-year old son than by getting involved and making a difference? I know that's such a canned answer, but Miss America would be proud.
Like many people, I have wept all week long, unable to believe that Barack Obama is our new President-elect; I'm doing it right now, in fact. I cried because 'hope' and 'change' weren't just annoying buzzwords; because his speech moved me in ways I've never been moved before; because people around the world are going to like us again; because I'm finally a part of the majority. I cried from relief that we're doing something new and different in this country; for my child's future, and for my own; and knowing my two neighbors went out this year and actually voted. I was so proud of them, and proud of us as a nation. I feel that more than just one narrow group of people are finally being represented, and that the things I want for America are more a possibility today than they were one week ago. I was reminded why it's so great to be a human with choices, and why this country is filled with potential; my cynicism, long since cultivated and stoked and cherished, fell away like a mask I'd been wearing for years. When I re-read Obama's speech today, I cried the way I did when my son was born--which makes perfect sense, because I think our country has a chance at a new beginning. Snotty McSnotterson is proud to be an asshole, but Marika Malaea Burkhart is proud to be an American.