Saturday, November 8, 2008

You mean I can stop being cynical now?

Before I get back to my regularly-scheduled blogging (even if I don't know how regular it is anymore) I want to congratulate President-Elect Barack Obama and talk a little about Tuesday's historic election--the first Presidential race in which I was ever able to vote.

For about six weeks before the election (especially before I began working full-time) I volunteered at the Obama campaign headquarters in downtown San Francisco. Much of the time, the staffers put me in the front of the office, selling T-shirts, bumper stickers, and pins to people who wandered in off the street. (And considering that we were located on Market Street, the job also involved telling homeless people they couldn't use our bathroom or hang out on our couches.) Lots of foreigners arrived wanting Obama souvenirs, and while it was fun to use my French or muddle along in Italian talking to them, I didn't really feel like I was helping Obama win. Among my friends, I tended to downplay what I did at campaign headquarters. It's not like Obama window signs were going to make much of a difference in San Francisco, after all.

Still, I also did some phone-banking; in my first days there, the office was entirely focused on making calls to Nevada. At the time the Nevada polls showed about 47% McCain, 45% Obama, and we were all nervous. But over time, Obama's numbers in Nevada crept up, we expanded our efforts to other states like New Mexico, and on the final weekend before the election, I was phoning people in Florida and North Carolina to remind them to vote on Tuesday.

And the final tally in Nevada? 55% Obama, 43% McCain.

I voted in Oregon, because I thought it would be inconvenient to switch my registration to California and Oregon's vote-by-mail makes things so easy. I am a little disappointed not to have been able to vote No on Prop 8, but Oregon had an important race too--the Senate race between Gordon Smith and Jeff Merkley. I watched the results of that with impatience and was thrilled, two days later, when Merkley was announced the winner.

Sure, Merkley didn't run the most exciting campaign--and Smith was one of the less infuriating Republicans in the Senate. (For instance, he scored big points with Oregonians when he said "I don't personally agree with assisted suicide, but the voters in my state approved it, so I will defend it in the face of John Ashcroft's campaign against it.") In fact, maybe I ought to be grateful to Smith, because five years ago, he personally interceded to obtain travel visas to Cuba for me and a group from my school--the only time that a legislator has done something for me specifically. All the same, I don't regret my vote.

Four years ago, I was devastated by the results of the Presidential election, especially because I was 17 years old and hadn't gotten to cast a vote against George Bush. I felt like I hadn't done enough to help the Democrats, and resolved to do better in the future. I remember telling my mom, "In four years, I'll have just graduated college, and before I get a real job, I want to spend those first months working on a political campaign. Maybe I'll come back to Oregon and help defeat Gordon Smith!"

"I don't know," said my mother, "he'll be pretty hard to kick out, people seem to like him."

Eat your words, Mom!

Unlike many liberals, I haven't shed any tears of joy over Obama's election, but every few hours a new thought will pop into my head concerning just how much of a good thing this is. Thoughts like, "And now I won't have to worry about who'll get nominated to the Supreme Court!" or "Maybe he'll sign the Kyoto Protocols!" Mostly, however, I'm just getting used to the idea that my President will be someone whom I admire as a human being. After eight years of Bush, that seems nearly inconceivable. Even Bill Clinton, though his politics are much more to my liking, doesn't quite pass the "admire as a person" test.

I wrote about this in an e-mail to one of my friends, saying "Why does it seem so weird to admire my President? Dear God, how cynical we all became over the last eight years!" Indeed, my downplaying of what I did at Obama headquarters is just another example of the reflexive cynicism that, I'm afraid, became my default mode.

My friend responded: "I think we could have become cynical and jaded as a generation, but I look at the numbers of young people who mobilized this election, and I am stunned and honored to be a (small) part of it. I think I never let myself really think past the election, and so it was only during the speeches that it really hit me-- I want to be involved, I want to be proud of my country and finally, FINALLY will be able to be. It's an awesome feeling."

Amen. Like someone who has gotten burned in a bad relationship (eight years long!) it hasn't been easy to open my heart again--but now at least I know that my faith is not always misguided.

1 comment:

Daryl Kulak said...

Great job volunteering for Obama, Marissa. We Americans appreciate it very much.

You changed the world for the better.