In Grant Park



It was nice, I tell people. Yes, it was nice.

That's not what they want to hear. They want to hear that the Obama rally in Grant Park on Tuesday was fantastic. Exhilarating. Incredible. Moving. They want to hear all that, but they'll have to hear it from someone else. I wish they could hear it from me. I wish I had burst into tears, like other people standing around me, like my husband. I wish that I'd felt a whoosh, a thrill, when I clapped along with everyone else when we heard that Iowa was going for Obama, and then Ohio. I wish that when I yelled in my green Obama t-shirt, among the tens of thousands in their t-shirts and caps and hijabs, holding their American flags aloft, wearing Obama pins, one girl with Vote Obama written on her face in blue, that I felt a thump in my chest, a heave in my heart. I wish that when I cheered along with everyone else when the CNN announcer on the JumboTron said, "It's looking exceedingly grim for John McCain," I felt gleeful. But I didn't.

CNN announced that Obama was the apparent winner. My friend Garnett, standing next to me said, "For the first time the country can actually get better." I agreed with her. A voice came over the loudspeaker: "Final sound check for the next president of the United States." Then I shouted along with everyone else, "Not for us!" when McCain said it was natural to feel some disappointment. I sang the chorus to "Sweet Home Chicago" along with the rest of the crowd. Then the president-elect came on stage (though I couldn't see him with my naked eye), but I didn't feel anything. I felt like the girl who sings "Nothing" in A Chorus Line. Except she became defiant about not feeling the way her acting teacher wanted her to, and I was disturbed.

What was wrong with me? This was historic, the first African-American president-elect. A brilliant man, a non-imperialist, a person we wouldn't have to disavow when traveling abroad. This was what I wanted--this is why I made phone calls to Iowa and rang doorbells in Indiana and Wisconsin, and organized a fundraiser in Chicago. This was the result I had hoped for, when I argued with Hillary supporters early on. In the park I listened to Obama, his stirring words about unity and inclusion and sacrifice, I listened to him say everything I would want a president to say--and still...

Wednesday I felt--or didn't feel--the same way. I kept trying to figure out what was going on. I kept thinking of syllogisms. Like: This country is conservative. Obama is progressive and I agree with him. But the country elected him. Therefore, Obama can't be progressive.

Maybe, I thought, I never supported a winning candidate before. That's partly true, except I voted for both Obama and Durbin for the Senate. How did I feel when Obama won his Senate seat? I don't remember. I did a tiny bit of work for that campaign. I campaigned for Harold Washington's second term. I was out of state for his first win. But he was hamstrung by a racist bloc of aldermen--at least at the beginning. I worked for an aldermanic candidate who lost twice. I voted for Carter and Clinton--but I didn't support either of them in the primaries.

Most of my adult life I've been politically marginal. My friends ran for state office on the Iowa Socialist Party ticket, and I voted for them. That was the choice: you vote for your beliefs or you vote for the compromisers. You vote your dreams or you sigh and vote for the possible. This is so ingrained in me that when I finally support a candidate who wins, with whom I agree, with whom I share a world view--my brain short-circuits and threatens to explode. How could suddenly a nation that I don’t quite feel a part of, embrace the same candidate that I embrace? How did that happen? Am I in shock?

Or am I depressed?

1 comment:

Tamara said...

..or are you aware that politics is a soulless machine even when someone you love from afar is at the controls? Your emotional radar is more sensitive than mine. I cried along with everyone else at Grant Park, and now I'm wondering what will happen to my dream of smaller class size for public school students with Arne Duncan at the national educational helm. He'll read Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker and conclude that we can fix education by getting rid of the bad teachers. He won't think about the data Gladwell includes that smaller class size works. It's "inefficient." Teachers should be efficient machines, churning out shiny successful students. I'm a good, successful teacher, but I'm still fucked. I'm 47 and my machine parts are wearing out.