Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To hope: lost, and found again.

November 7, 2000

It was a few months before my 18th birthday.  I may have not voted in this one, but I watched the results roll in.  I was in the midst of my required Government class in high school, and our teacher was very involved in making sure we understood what the election was all about, who the candidates were, and why it was important to vote.  She brought registration forms for all the Seniors who were old enough to register by the deadline.  Even if we couldn't vote, she encouraged us to get involved.  So I was involved and eager to see the results.  Eager to watch democracy work.

I was a bit disappointed when "my" candidate didn't win.  I was a bit irritated with the electoral college system when there was a disparity between the popular vote and the electoral votes.  Eventually I was furious with Florida for all the problems with the damn "chads."  Remember the chads?

But I maintained some hope that maybe, even though the man who got elected seemed rather unintelligent and inarticulate, maybe he wouldn't ruin the country.  Maybe it would only be four years and if he messed up, we'd fix it.

I watched his mistakes and misjudgments for the next four years.  I became more and more impassioned as it got closer to the end.  I fought to make sure those mistakes wouldn't continue for another four years.  I debated with friends and relatives.  I wore stickers and pins and put up signs.  I had hope that the other citizens of this country would see the light.  And then...

November 2, 2004

This time I was about halfway in to my 21st year.  A senior in college now.  Working very hard on a forty page thesis.  But that didn't stop me from voting and then watching the results come in.

All I remember of this night was a slow slip into depression as the polls closed and the numbers came in.  I remember drinking more alcohol than I should have considering my emotional state.  I remember finally turning off the TV when it was clearly all over.  I remember double-checking in the morning just to make sure it wasn't all a bad dream.  I remember going to my thesis class with my fellow 6 or 7 sociology majors, morosely fidgeting with my Kerry button, so depressed and angry that all I really wanted to do was throw it across the room.  We didn't talk about our theses that day.

Most of all, I remember my vehement pledge to leave the country.  I decided was going to finish college and then move to France.  I looked into it.  Very seriously.  I was going to be an au pair at first, and then somehow I would find a way to stay.  Because I couldn't stay here.  I couldn't be in a country where people thought it was a good idea to put a man who had made that many mistakes back in the White House for another four years to make more mistakes. I had lost all hope for this country, and I just wanted out.

Eventually I decided I couldn't leave my family and friends like that.  But I also couldn't be involved in politics anymore.  Not like I was.  I felt like it didn't matter.  I felt like there was nothing I could do.  I graduated and ended up at a job that I was highly overqualified for, but at least it paid the bills.  I got irritated with that job and started looking into ways I could actually use the brains I was blessed with.  I decided to go to law school.

I guess some small part of me thought maybe being a lawyer would be a way to make a change.  But mostly I just wanted to do something I could feel proud of.  I wanted a job that you can only get by being smart and working hard.  I learned some things about the ways that the courts can effect change when the people haven't.  But I still didn't really have hope.  Not anymore.

During my first year of law school, I watched the amazing campaign start.  I watched the fight between whether we would have a female candidate or a black candidate.  Either would have made history.  But I had concerns.  One was the divisiveness I saw still lurking in the Democratic party.  I knew that whoever became the Democratic candidate, I would back him/her whether or not he/she was the one I voted for in the primaries.  But I didn't trust that the rest of my party would do the same.

My other concern was one I didn't like to mention to many people.  Which institutionalized bias is worse in this country?  We don't talk about sexism.  We don't talk about racism.  We pretend they're not here.  But they are.  Which one was going to be easier for people to overcome when they walked into the voting booths?  I just didn't know.

I watched Barack Obama rise up as the chosen candidate.  I heard inspiring, articulate, beautiful, empowering speeches coming from his heart.  I wanted to feel the hope and joy he was trying to spread.  But I couldn't let myself hope.  Not yet.  Even at 25, already I had experienced too many disappointments in this country to dare to dream.

As it got closer to the date, I got a little more involved.  I donated about $20 to his campaign, all I could afford as a poor law student.  I joined Facebook groups to show my support.  I even set up an automatic Facebook update that said I'd donated my status to the campaign.  And I encouraged everyone I knew to get out and vote.  But I couldn't let myself get more involved than that.  I couldn't put that much energy into something when I was too afraid to be disappointed again.  I was still afraid to hope.

November 4, 2008

I wake up an hour early because it's the only time I have to go vote.  I'm a bit nostalgic for the days I lived in Oregon when I could fill out my ballot in the comfort of my living room and then toss it in the mailbox or a ballot drop box, located at any public library as well as other public locations.

I go to school.  I'm in class all day.  Tuesdays are my long day.  I have a bit of time in between classes to go get my free election day cup of Starbucks coffee.  But I'm mostly quiet and reserved.  Holding back the hope that's trying to break through.  I don't want to jinx it.  Not now.

I finally get home a little after 9.  I turn on the TV and find CNN.  And then I hear it.  Obama has taken Ohio.  I know what that means.  That means it might really be happening.  I start to smile.  But I don't celebrate.  Not quite yet.  I'm just not ready.

I switch to Comedy Central at 10.  I love Jon Stewart.  He's on my list.  ;)  I laugh at the jokes, cheer when I see all the reports he and Stephen Colbert are announcing showing what states Obama has taken.  But since they're not doing an official count, I don't really know exactly how it's going.  I know California, Oregon and Washington are safe even though the polls aren't closed.  I came from that coast.  I know what they're about.

I'm twittering and updating Facebook as I watch.  I figure it's going to be a long night.  It was the last two times.

And then I hear it.  Straight from Jon Stewart's lips.

"At 11 o'clock at night, Eastern Standard time, the President of the United States is Barack Obama."

I start to cry.  I start to laugh.  I start to feel all the hope I'd lost over the last 8 years.  I go get a glass of wine to celebrate.  Vanessa comes out of her room to share my joy and gets some celebratory ice cream.  I call my mom.  We cry together.  I watch the respectful concession speech by John McCain for a while, until I get a bit frustrated with the crowd and I decide to watch my TiVoed episode of Jeopardy.  I don't want that crowd putting a damper on my mood.  I drink my wine.  I turn off Jeopardy and find that they're waiting for Obama to come out and make his speech.  The speech brings me to tears again.  I'm moved by the millions of people chanting in unison - yes we can.  I turn off the TV and fall asleep, going to bed with hope in my heart for the first time in 8 years.

I wake up this morning and am overwhelmed by the joy I feel, by the joy I see, by the seeds of hope sprouting everywhere I go.  I'm brought to tears by almost everything I see and hear.  I go to school, looking out on my country with new eyes.  Things are going to change.  Things are going to get better.

Yes we can.

To the President-elect, Barack Obama, and to the citizens that got him there, thank you.  Thank you for giving me back my hope.  Thank you for giving me a reason to be proud of this country again.  Thank you.
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KC McAuley said...

Beautiful. I have never been so proud of my country, proud of our spirit and willingness and drive to change. Change has come and I'm ready to be part of the solution. Oh...and I'm very proud of you, too baby.

Ginger said...

wow bridgete! this is powerful stuff. i remember my disappointment and frustration over that election 8 years ago as well and this election has lit a fire within me that went out long ago...i think this is the case with a lot of people who've been embarrassed for our country for the last 2 terms.
the last part of your post made me tear up. every time i think about the hope that's brewing i get misty and i still have so much hope that we will keep up the positive attitudes and will work toward that better tomorrow with our new president. the world deserves for us to behave better than we have been...and we deserve it.

and jon stewart is a good man for the list. haha!

kate said...

Heartfelt and well-written post Bridgete.
Here's my stupid question of the day - what is twittering?

Bridgete said...

Ah! Twittering. That would be going on and posting short messages in response to the question "What are you doing?"

Most of the time the posts don't directly answer that question, but rather are just a running commentary about your daily life. In 140 characters or less.

It sounds silly until you get hooked on it and feel the need to update your Twitter friends (people who are following your updates) whenever you encounter something funny/odd/happy/sad/etc.

Jenn said...

This is so very beautiful Bridgete. I thought my tears of joy were relegated to yesterday but apparently not because I am smiling as my eyes are leaking all over my keyboard reading this.

To tell you that I relate to your entire post would be an understatement. The loss of hope related to the state of the country was something I discussed with Matt & my Mom just minutes after getting home from voting and to see that I was not alone in that by reading what you have written here (even though they looked at me like I was crazy) is validation enough for me. :)

Yes we can.
Yes we did.