Post Election Reflections
Tuesday night William and I were glued to the television screen. Earlier that day I'd have a moment of giddiness when I marked my ballot. But I was nervous. If the last eight years has taught me anything, it's that anything was possible and often that didn't mean anything good. I didn't want to spend the night pacing but I also didn't want to be too optimistic. We flipped channels. Ate apple/quince/pear/cranberry cobbler. I allowed myself to be the teensiest bit excited when Obama took Pennsylvania. I was cautiously ecstatic when Ohio turned blue. But then...
it all happened so fast. I was about to leave the room. William started pointing and shouting. I turned to the television. I think, although I'm not sure, that it was Wolf Blitzer talking. Projecting a winner. And then, before I could even wrap my head around it, announcing it was official. Obama won. Mostly I remember this:
I remember crying. William answering the phone, that I didn't even hear ring. William grinning. Talking to my daughter-in-law on the phone. Hearing the same shouting crowds in the background at her house. Hearing the same tears and smiles in her voice. Then my daughter called to be part of the moment as well. I hung up so William could call and tell Hubby the news as he was all alone at his work station.
I thought, if the moment came, it would be exciting, that we'd whoop and holler. I had no idea that instead we'd all be overwhelmed with emotion, wet with tears, weak with relief, wobbly as the walls of fear and protection we'd been wearing melted away. Eventually, of course we did whoop and holler too. I wished there had been some celebration somewhere that I could have joined. But we live in a tiny red town in the middle of nowhere and the best I could do was join with the cheering crowds and dance about in the living room in front of the television screen.
We watched McCain's incredibly gracious speech. We watched Obama's speech and were moved to tears once again. It all seems like a fairytale somehow. In his speech he reminded us of two very important points - a) this isn't the happy ending but rather, the beginning of a lot of hard work and b) this is the time for gracious reconciliation with all Americans regardless of how they voted. Wise words and I will do my best to follow them. But....
It has been a long eight years, a long exhausting road. I don't want to let go of the moment just yet. I want to bask in some well deserved celebration for just a little while longer. Apparently this isn't necessarily going to happen.
I woke up Wednesday morning and the first thing I thought was "Obama still won". I turned on my laptop to check, just to make sure it hadn't all been a dream. I got ready for the day and went out to run some errands, hoping to bask in the communal spirit of joy that this historical moment in history created.
The problem with my plan, folks around here aren't basking in any joy. This county voted more than two to one for McCain and the mood around town was more like someone had just died than like someone had just won anything. Even though I knew that at least every third person I saw had cast their ballot for Obama, no one was willing to take the chance of interacting, no one in this ordinarily very friendly town seemed to want to make eye contact.
I bumped into a quilting friend in Walmart and she stopped for a chat. She seemed cheerful enough that I bravely asked her if she was happy with the election results. Mistake. No, not a mistake. A really fascinating opportunity to see how thoroughly people can be mislead and misinformed. She went on and on about her fears of socialism. About how afraid she was because black people hate white people so much. About how her taxes were going to go up and small businesses were going to collapse all over the place and how the terrorists will be racing up onto our shores any minute now. About how Obama could not legally become president and how he'd faked his Hawaiian birth certificate and really he'd been born in Kenya and gone to a Muslim madrassa there. How his best friend growing up was his communist mentor. That Obama lived next door to William Ayers and that his presidential campaign was both funded by him and hatched in his very living room. That we can only judge someone by the company he keeps and that Rev. Wright (although she didn't actually know his name) was proof that Obama felt the same anger and unpatriotic rage.
Inside I was pretty much blown away that someone I knew could swallow whole so many of the propaganda and lies that were circulating out there. On the surface I stayed friendly and tried to respond non-agressively to her concerns. "I think your information might be a bit confused." "I do not believe Obama ever lived with his father." (this in response to her assertion that his father was a communist and a socialist) "I don't believe he ever lived in Africa, but he did spend some of his childhood in Indonesia." "He didn't live in Hawaii with his Muslim father, he lived in Hawaii with his grandparents." (The impossibility of his being able to live in two places simultaneously apparently wasn't something she'd stopped to consider) "By your argument, if you know someone and call them a friend then you agree with them on everything, but clearly the two of us, friends, standing here disagreeing shows that you can like someone and even admire them and yet disagree strongly with some of their beliefs."
No matter what I said she was sure I was wrong. I asked who her sources were and she assured me they were all 100% trustworthy. I asked "But WHERE did you hear ...this.. or that" She said from people she knew would never lie to her. In the end she refused to tell me who she got her information from but later in the conversation she informed me she only watched Fox News as they were the only unbiased news station. I suggested she might feel better, less apprehensive about our future if she read Obama's book The Audacity of Hope. That I had read it and was quite surprised to discover that Obama was much more of a moderate than the news media painted him as being. She patted me on the shoulder and said "You know I love you but honey, you are so naive. Do you really think he's going to tell us the truth about himself?" She went back to her argument that black people had no reason to be so angry at white people. I pointed out some personal experiences I had in my own life being in a minority group of one kind or another. I told her how that felt. I pointed out that this was nothing compared to the history of slavery and poverty, segregation and prejudice that many African-Americans have had to experience. She pointed out that this was silly, that it was all in the past. She said white people didn't hate black people like black people hated white people. I reminded her of the KKK. She poo-poohed that as being all "cleaned up".
I told her I'd go home and research all her concerns and honestly compare them to my own beliefs. She told he she couldn't do the same because she didn't have a computer. We moved on to discussing what was going on with a new quilt group that was starting up in town and then hugged and went our separate ways.
And just for the record, I have friends who voted for McCain who believe little to none of the media garbage. Some of them have different base views on which they built thoughtful and intelligent arguments for their decision. Some even liked Obama but in the end chose to vote their heart on one or two issues that they shared with McCain. Those are the type of voters that will probably take a watchful but fair wait and see attitude on how the new presidency handles itself. It's the woman I talked to yesterday though, that make me realize just how wide a canyon there is in this country, filled with fear and confusion.
After the 2000 and 2004 elections, I had to walk around town keeping my disappointment and fear to myself. I had to politely bite my tongue or agree to disagree with all the Bush supporters. I've spent the last eight years in my little Subie pulling up behind the bumpers of big ol' trucks plastered with I "heart" Bush/Cheney stickers right next to the Jesus fish and the America - Love it or Leave it stickers. It doesn't seem fair that now, when I should finally be able to smile, that it's all about wearing mourning black and the end of the "good ol' days", a time when truth was as easy to understand as black and white. Now truth is both black and white and that's making a few heads spin in confusion.
Eventually I ran into one lone person who I knew voted the same way I did and we did a quick little hug and happy dance together outside the supermarket. Then, determined not to let the gloom clouds over this small town ruin my jubilation, I went to the French Restaurant for a celebration dinner, just me and my book (Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyers - I'm finally on the final book in the series!). The irony was not lost on me - that on a day when I felt the most patriotically proud, that I'd had to take refuge in a French Restaurant to feel amongst other happy Americans. It's frustrating to have no doubt that I would have shared far more congratulatory moments if I was actually on the streets of Paris yesterday than on the streets of Susanville. After a nice dinner I came home to spend more time in front of the television and my laptop, where I could get a happy fix, where I can connect with all those others who voted for change.
I know, eventually life has to get back to normal. Hopefully a new normal, but normal nonetheless. And I'll do as our new president has asked. I'll be conciliatory and reach across our differences a hand of compromise and friendship. Hell, I do that all the time here in this town where I love the people but not necessarily their views.
But please, can't I have just a few days to feel happy dance giddy and smug!? Don't I deserve at least a little cherry on top of my ice cream? I'm still walking around with a sense of wonder. The news clips still make me tear up and our new president- elect's face still makes me smile back in awe. I feel sort of silly and school girl crush about it. Or alternately, like a proud mom who wants to crush her successful son in a big ol' hug. But I can't help it. It feels soooooo good. It feels like a new beginning not just for America, but for the world. History has had another "one giant leap for mankind" and I am humbled and proud to have been a molecule sized part of making it happen.