Keep on rocking in the free world

I Voted - Election2008
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

It is the eve of Election Day 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will battle it out at the polls tomorrow, and, like much of the world, I am flabbergasted: How did we get to this point?? I want to remember how many of us felt during this season 8 years ago, as we waited to see if we were successful in electing Barack Obama as President of the United States, and even 6 years ago, as we evaluated Obama halfway into his first term as President. I don’t foresee I’ll feel any of the same unbridled excitement tomorrow — just relief or horror, depending on the results. But I want to share the post below, long-buried in my Drafts folder, so that we could remember what hope & happiness felt like.

8 JUNE 2010

Towards the end of May, my father kept harassing me to figure out how we could re-register to vote within the new county where we live now, and when I reminded him that he already knew all this information because he had sent me an email about it last week with all the relevant links, he retorted, “But I didn’t READ any of it. That’s YOUR job. You need to read it and tell me what we’re supposed to do!” When I finally provided him with all the necessary instructions, he sent back a prompt response that made me smile the rest of the day: “Good job, kiddo.”

The evening of the California state elections in June, I called my father while he was on a business trip in Houston. As he prattled on about his hotel and the water fountain the size of our entire courtyard at Casa420 and the gazebo (“They call it a gazebo. It’s half the size of Texas!”), I interrupted him long enough to ask, “Could we discuss Proposition 17? I don’t understand this one.” Later, I went to vote at my local fire station, gleeful, my eyes wide as saucers. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a fire station, and something about voting in one made the whole process particularly exciting.

These, among many other things, are what I’ve learned from my father: That it is important to be an active participant in democracy and civic engagement. That even if you (or your candidates) don’t win, it is imperative to at least show up and try to do something. You have no right to whine about things, if you refuse to do anything about them — even if doing something is as seemingly simple (and simplistic) as voting (or volunteering, for that matter), whether it’s at an elementary school or a Methodist church or a fire station or a local garage. It’s lovely to sing along with the National Anthem (as I did at various friends’ and cousins’ commencement ceremonies throughout June, all the while swallowing a laugh at how every single one of the singers slurred over the word “bombs”), but also necessary to have at least a passing interest in and knowledge of issues facing our communities and our world.

1 FEBRUARY 2010

Last week at work, after a particularly successful meeting, one of my colleagues, A1, pumped his fists into the air and exclaimed triumphantly, “Change is coming!”

“Yeah, that’s what Obama said, too,” I retorted wryly, “and where’s he gotten us so far?”

Our other colleague, A2, usually admirably even-tempered, flared up: “Why is everyone hating on Obama? He’s doing what he can to help. What do you all have against that?”

I raised an eyebrow. “I have nothing against his helping. But —” and here I got interrupted by a phonecall, and we never did finish that conversation. A2 is from Côte d’Ivoire, the Ivory Coast; as an African, he took great pride in Obama’s presidential election and victory. Any criticism of Obama is tantamount to a personal slur, as far as A2 is concerned.

That evening was the first time in over a year I’ve worked there that A2 didn’t pause by my desk on his way out with a smiling farewell, “Alright, rockstar…” and an outstretched hand ready to meet my highfive.

A couple of days later, the same afternoon that Obama was set to deliver his State of the Union address, I learned that Howard Zinn had died. And so, my focus for the day shifted from cynically analyzing our president’s first year in office, to instead remembering the historian who wrote about kings and presidents and everyday people, not idealistically, but with an emphasis on truth and an openness to the possibilities inherent within each one of us.

And speaking of idealism, or at least, positivity and possibility, I was just reading a Howard Zinn essay forwarded by an old professor/mentor of mine: The Optimism of Uncertainty. Zinn constantly reminded us that we can — and should — tell our own stories, and (re-)write our own history. But even Zinn, encourager of optimism, faltered: “I’ve been searching hard for a highlight,” he recently commented on Obama’s presidency.

A year ago, even the “professional cynics” went so far as to admit that Obama’s entrance foretold an exciting and interesting time to be in America, and Inauguration Day 2009 was “the ultimate Mondo Beyondo moment” for many. But the sheen started wearing off much too soon, and I recall reading Mangomo’s inauguration post only a month later with interest:

“Especially now that the hope has gotten a little muddled what with the 60 Pakistanis that have been killed in drone attacks since Obama’s administration (with not so much as a peep from Mr.Change), I thought it’d be interesting to remember how I was feeling after the big event.”

As Faiqa reminded us all just before the Inauguration:

Look, I think Barack Obama is as anti The Man as a U.S. President could get, but he is still, my friends, The Man.

I understand the love fest that is the presidential election. I engaged in the love fest. But, people, the love fest is over. Barack Obama is no longer a hopeful. In less than seven days Mr. Obama will become president of the United States of America.

The Man. He’s the guy we have to check up on. He’s someone we must question. When we question him, when we take him to task for what he feels is best, we help him.

And we help ourselves.

The election is long over.

But our work? It’s just begun.

This has been a long, and possibly unnecessary, introduction to the post below, which I wrote during and immediately after the Presidential Election in 2008. It’s a bit late for reflections now, but I do want to remember how full of joy so many of us were on November 5, 2008, and the months of hope that preceded that date. This is not — nor will it most likely ever be — a political weblog, and there is rarely, if ever, anything to find here regarding sociopolitical commentary and analysis.

But, let’s face it, there is little, if any, distinction between the personal and the political these days. It is a privilege (and an insult, I think) to be dispassionate or ignorant about the world. I’m posting this entry over a year late, but I want to be able to re-read it three years from now and remember how my father looked while bubbling in his ballot, how I felt waking up the morning after the election, how the world seemed to think, at one point, that we Americans had finally done something right.

Three years from now, it may again be a completely different story. But cynicism and sarcasm don’t suit me. And as Zinn wrote:

The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

[+]

5 NOVEMBER 2008

My father wanted two Obama signs for the front yard. “This time, I’m going to do it right, and vote for the right guy,” he said. “No more voting for Republicans and Libertarians and the Green Party and all that. In the past, I’ve always voted based on what’s best for the Palestinians and the Afghanis and the Iraqis. This time, I’m voting for what’s best for America.”

Even my mother, who doesn’t know anything about politics, remembers Barack Obama’s name. Several weeks ago, she said out of the blue, “I think Obama should win.” And that was that.

I told a friend one day, “I was telling my sister how rocking it felt to want to vote for someone because I wanted HIM to win, and not because I didn’t want the OTHER guy to win.”

On the day before Election Day, a friend and I had the following conversation:

F: what are you up to tonight?
Yasmine: re. tonight, i’m going to sit down with my ballot and go through all these 43924809238 bajillion propositions and things, in preparation for tomorrow’s voting
F: oh awesome!
i’m proud of you!
Yasmine: hahahaha lookit you, sounding all surprised or something
F: no, i’m genuinely proud to see someone take this civic duty seriously
Yasmine: oh, of course.
we have this tradition with our dad, where we all sit at the dining table after dinner, the night before city/state/national elections and go through the ballot together and talk through all the propositions and candidates, and circle whatever our choices are.
it streamlines things for when we go in to vote the next day.
like having a cheat-sheet or something.

Later:

Me to friend: [The daddy-o] was having so much fun bubbling in all the bubbles.
Such a kid.
And then he made a mistake, and he was like, ‘Oh, no! Yasminay! I accidentally made a line outside my bubble!’

When even the cynics get excited about an election, you know this is history in the making.

I have perhaps never been so proud of my father as when the time came to vote on Prop 8, and he voted NO. I posted a photograph of this on facebook on Election Day, with the caption: “The daddy-o finished filling in all his bubbles, and then exclaimed, “V for Victory!” (The lengthier caption/collage on flickr explained, The daddy-o says No on Proposition 8 ["Gay people want to get married? So, who cares?"] and Yes on Barack Obama ["V for Victory!"]. The end.) The photo drew surprised reactions from some; one acquaintance commented:

No on Prop 8, what kind of household is your dad running!!!

And although the question was presented seemingly in jest, appended with laughter and smiley faces, I couldn’t help but reply almost sharply, and a trifle smugly:

The kind of household that promotes civil rights and justice for all.

Justice is paramount, and voting is special.

Salon had an article about what would happen If the Rest of the World Could Vote, underscoring what a powerful experience it is for immigrants, and children of immigrants, to vote in this election. Eboo Patel remembers Studs Terkel, who passed away before Election Day, with lines from George Bernard Shaw: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and that as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.” My friend, Nipun, writes about Barack Obama’s “meditative poise.”

The StoryPeople folks were just as dazzled as the rest of us:

…the idea – no longer an idea, but a solid truth – that on any given day we do set change in motion remains magnificent. That idea and truth belong to each of us and all of us. Everywhere. And we can decide what kind of change to set in motion. We can imagine the future.

Maya Stein had a beautiful poem for Election Day:

This day opens

I don’t think it is possible
to want too much.
The morning isn’t even here
but already my heart is racing.
We can’t always make sense
of what we yearn for, but the act of yearning
is what keeps everything alive.
Even the silence of 2 a.m. is full of promise.

This day opens like a poem
waiting to be written.

The world was holding its breath right along with us. I got IMs throughout the day from India, Canada, and the UK. Adnan threatened, “You Amreekis had better not mess this up!” F said, “Please vote for the change that we didn’t.”

At 10.30 that night, I came back to my computer, and the barrage of IMs began. People’s gchat statuses, all about Obama. Facebook statuses, all about Obama. Tumblr — one of my favorite sites to follow along for election-related news and links over the past several months — was filled with euphoria.

Yasmine: hello, canada! ooncha paanch!
A: hello amrika!
ooncha paanch back to you!
we did it!!

HMan: WOW
did you see my fb pics?
Dude, it was like SOUL TRAIN
group dancing with hundreds/thousands in Philly
dude
we marched to independence hall!
THOUSANDS of young folks [...]
i high fived people FROM MY CAR
and honked for 15 miles

Ayesha: helllllllloooooo America! you were very very good today!
HUGS!
Yasmine: hahaha we were indeed!
MAN!
Ayesha: I have never been that anxious about Canadian OR Pakistani elections
Yasmine: I KNOW!
Ayesha: i was literally glued to TV and internetS
Congratulations yaara…and hope he does not disappoint us

AF: i’m sooooo excited!
i feel like i am living in a dream
tooooo crazy
Yasmine: ME, TOO! and i can’t stop typing IN CAPS NOW!
it feels so surreal!
AF: i kept thinking of malcolm x today
thats the word – SURREAL

H IMed me last night about her experience driving home in the euphoria of the election results, she, too, highfiving people from her car. I woke up smiling this morning, filled with glee. The mood on this Wednesday four years ago was completely different. The results were what we hoped were a mere nightmare we could wake up from — or hoped we could just sleep through for the next century and bypass all the drama. We raged against America’s decision, and contemplated a one-way ticket to Australia. We wished we weren’t sore losers, but many of us were, in spite of Leila’s calm pointing-out of the fact that, “This is what I’m talking about. That we, as democrats, have been unable to make connections with enough citizens of our country to have the vote go in our favor. That we haven’t, as another friend mentioned so eloquently, been able to provide alternatives to the various fears that drove this last election the way it went.”

Four years later, the majority of America seems to be convinced of alternatives. And all I’m doing now is praying that Barack Obama lives up to his promises and expectations.

I hugged my parents, my brother and sister, and N the Canadian last night, all of us smiling widely, a bit stunned at the results. N shot her fists in the air in triumph. “I never want to hear the words ‘my friends’ or ‘creepy hands‘ or ‘reach across the aisle’ or ‘maverick’ AGAIN.”

“God, I’ll never be able to think of WINKING the same way again,” I said.

When I left the living room at 11pm, the daddy-o — a lifelong Republican — was still sitting there watching television and smiling quietly to himself.

“Daddy, are you excited? You voted for America this time, and look what happened!”

“My man won!” he said. “No one I’ve voted for has ever won before!”

I went to sleep late, woke up early, and it wasn’t until I started refreshing news websites and political weblogs this morning that the fact that last night actually happened began to sink in. I am relieved, and happy, and so proud of us today, America. We made this happen, and we did a rocking good job. I feel so giddy.

And here, then, is a poem for today — an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of the Morning, delivered at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, in January 1993 [emphasis mine]:

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change. [...]
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

[And here is Maya Angelou on today's CBS Early Show, discussing Barack Obama's victory and reciting from her poem, Still I Rise.]

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