Well, it happened. I’ve been fantasizing and hoping for so long that I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t be possible. In the week leading up to election day I did my level best to stay as far away from the polls as possible—I just didn’t want to know. Steve was the brave one—he followed that coverage pretty closely and kept me informed. Tuesday was pretty much the same…I speculated about getting a bottle of champagne in case there was something to celebrate, but put it off until Barack took Ohio, and then sprinted out to the local Safeway, where amazingly enough they had a bottle of Veuve Cliquot waiting.
I got back and within a half hour or so he’d taken Virginia. VIRGINIA. Now I gotta say as someone who spent most of her childhood in that state, there was just no way I could visualize Obama taking VA. My mom spent a few hours phone banking in the last couple weeks of the campaign, but had sounded pretty resigned that VA wouldn’t go his way. I mean, it’s the seat of the friggin’ confederacy. And then Steve was saying “you’d better get the bottle out of the freezer, McCain is about to concede.”
This in itself was incredible to me. After 2 elections where I woke up the next morning without a definitive result, it was an indescribable relief to have this contest decided so quickly. (Ok, so I was lucky enough to be on the West coast—a lot earlier than all of my NYC and Chicago compadres who stayed up late to find out how it all ended) In any case I was impressed (for the moment) at how gracious parts of McCain’s speech was. It sounded like the McCain I’d wanted to respect for so long.
But what really got me was watching Obama’s victory speech. We don’t have cable, so we watched it streaming full-screen on Steve’s big monitor. The slightly pixellated image as Obama’s strong voice reached out through the speakers was so surreal and wonderful that it’s still something I am processing.
But why is this?
Why has this person reached out and touched my citizen’s heart in a way no other politician ever has?
Well, there’s a few reasons for that. I’m gonna try to be succinct about this, but bear with me.
1. One of my great political dreams has always been the mobilization of voters. I always dreamed that the huge pool of people who could vote who never did, and the other group who had never bothered to register because they thought it wouldn’t count, would get up and dare to make their voices heard—to take that risk that they would lose, because it was more important for their vote to be cast than not.
In all honesty, I’d have felt better (in a way) if GWB had won by a true mandate of the people. I’d still be heavily against him, but at least the people would have spoken. The fact that this hadn’t been the way our presidents and congress have been chosen (and still aren’t—there’s plenty of people who could vote who haven’t) has always rankled with me.
The fact that Obama’s campaign went out and consistently worked to get people to the polls inspired the heck out of me. They sent people to all parts of the cities, all areas of suburban and rural neighborhoods and made it as easy as they could for people to vote, told these people that their votes mattered.
This concept went beyond the campaign—it’s integral to Obama’s approach in his career—from his community organizing experience to the courses he taught in voting law. This focus won me over pretty quickly.
2. On top of that was the innovative approaches that Obama used to reach out to people and give them information. His expansive website that spelled out every aspect of his agenda was more thorough than his opponents (I cross-checked the issues). He was on every single social networking site before anyone else. He held town halls discussing how every department of his administration could have its own town halls and websites to reach the American public and be held accountable by them.
This kind of transparency, as well as a recognition of the reach and ability of the web to communicate immediately with citizens (and the willingness to go there, do that, and give citizens that kind of access) was such a revelation after the GWB administration’s immense secrecy that this won me over yet again.
3. The combination of items 1 and 2 backed up my immediate impressions of the speech that Obama gave in New Hampshire upon conceding the primary win to Hillary Clinton. I’d found the Will. I. Am song “Yes We Can” rather trite and propagandic, but also pretty innovative on a political level, so I looked up the original speech on YouTube and was immediately impressed. The history Obama traces in his vision of American innovation inspired the hell out of me, but what really got me was the line that makes the title of this post. I have never heard another politician be so clear about the place every American has in the foundation and function of this country. It was something I needed desperately to hear, and had no idea I needed to hear it until it was being said. I can only imagine how much more others have needed the same thing—all those people who hadn’t voted until this election—or who hadn’t done so in years. It gripped my heart and forced me to care.
So there you have it. That being said, I totally get how others look at all of this with a critical eye, both those who voted for Obama and those who voted for McCain. All the change that Obama has advocated can be tough to absorb and believe. I’ll be interested to see how that changes as the initiatives start happening. Checking out the beta site of change.gov is a good place to start. When I talked to my parents right before Obama’s speech my dad said, “the real work begins tonight.” I can’t wait.