In 2005, I went to the American Library Association trade show in Chicago. Those trade shows are tough. Long hours, talking to people all day, smiling when you want to throw something, and utterly exhausting. It was my first one, and caught up in the excitement, my coworker and I stayed after on the first day to go see some senator who was scheduled to speak for the opening commencement. I'd never heard of him, but I guess the other 10,000 people crammed into the hall at McCormick Center had, as it was Standing Room Only. The guy was over half an hour late, and thinking of the long shuttle lines and the blisters on our feet and empty stomachs, we decided to forgo the ceremony and go back to the hotel and change into comfortable shoes and find food.
I will regret that decision for as long as I live. But thanks to that decision, I'm not making another stupid one as far as Barack Obama is concerned.
After that, I started hearing more and more about Obama, and remembering hearing the librarians speak of how inspiring he was, I took notice. (I trust librarians. I think many of them may be the smartest, most savvy people around.) And you couldn't help but notice what was happening to our country -- billions of dollars funneled into a war no one seemed to understand or want, New Orleans pulverized by not only natural but reckless and irresponsible government causes, and whispers of a recession making everyone uneasy. (And now the whispers have turned to screams and groans.) To name just a few. And it made me so angry.
Now, I've always been a little apathetic when it comes to politics. Not so much apathetic, but just uninvolved, really. I don't even think I voted until I was in my early 20's (for Clinton, of course), but I've voted each time since then. And I love voting -- it's so exciting to go to the booth, and seeing my candidate's name on the ballot and checking it off, and getting my sticker. And each time, without fail, no matter how small the measures are, I always feel so emotional because I don't take it for granted that as a woman I'm allowed to vote, and that my vote helps make a difference. I choke back tears each time.
So no, I'm not apathetic, but up until now, I've never thought that anything I did other than voting would matter, and never took the time to volunteer or even put a bumper sticker on my car. Four years ago, I didn't pay that much attention to the campaign, because I was so damn sure that America wouldn't make the same mistake again and re-elect George W., and I am still reeling that we were all so wrong.
This time, I want to make sure I help to get it right.
I will never forget the first time we watched -- I mean, really watched -- Obama speak. After he was done, we both had tears running down our cheeks, and Jon said, "That man is the future for my children." Usually when I watch politicians I am so hypercritical, watching for the gratuitous pandering that makes their sincerity ring false, but I didn't get that with Obama. Knowing that he would take the time to address librarians, and that he cared enough to go to some librarian convention and speak... that spoke volumes to me. It just made me believe that he does care. And nothing he has said or done in the subsequent years and months has made me change my mind. In fact, things he has said have made me even more solidly convinced. (Especially about the US car companies. My dad worked for GM for nearly 50 years, and what has been happening breaks my heart. Michigan also has the highest unemployment rate, too. But that's just only one of the things.)
Palin walks around in Valentino. Obama walks the walk. Obviously.
So this year, for the first time in my life, I not only put a bumper sticker on my car, but I have read and forwarded emails and donated to a presidential campaign. And as scary as it was, I even volunteered.
Last month I signed up for Get Out The Vote to go to Nevada for Obama with a group of amazing friends, who have already gone to Nevada to do it. I was so inspired by them that I decided to go with them, because I felt I have to do something. Even my wonderful sister wants to go if she can. (She's already volunteered in Maine. I have the coolest sister in the world.) We signed up to go the weekend before the election, but now it's in question because they actually might not need us! They were expecting 250 Northern Californians in Washoe County last weekend, and 1500 showed up. And the early votes are all swinging toward Obama, which has been so exciting. (And he's going to be there this weekend. Hurrah!) So we don't know if we will go to Nevada, but even if we stay home, we're going to do something. (Which will involve phones and "good bad for you food," as Jeff says.)
Going with friends is one thing, but going by myself -- that was scary. But after the last debate, as I watched McCain (who is "proud" of Sarah Palin, who is so so so scary) pander and mug, and Obama keep his composure as usual, I signed up to do a phonebank in my neighborhood. Olivia couldn't make it, so I was alone.
I didn't know what to expect when I arrived. I had never done this before, and I felt like a scared little kid on my first day of school. But as it turns out, the hostess was just fabulous, and everyone was so nice. (And it turned out I knew someone there, which was funny.) Spirits were high because Colin Powell had endorsed Obama that day, and we all admitted that we cried when we heard it. And all we had to do was call MoveOn members in Minnesota and tell them about volunteer opportunities in their area from a script. easy peasy, and it got easier as it went. A lot of people didn't answer the phone on my sheets, but I talked to about 10 people -- all nice, and I even signed up two people. Woo hoo! And there were snacks. Good snacks. I drove home feeling like a million bucks. And pretty damn American.
I know there's been brouhaha about being American and living in a big city all that jazz, but pfffft. Whatever. I am American. And I knew what Michelle Obama meant. I love my country, but that doesn't mean I'm always proud of it. I'm not proud of how we are seen in other countries because of our government. (And reality TV shows like "My Super Sweet 16." Bleeccch.) I'm not proud of how we have dealt with everything, especially Guantanamo Bay (hellooo!). But I was raised by two members of "The Greatest Generation," and they taught me to love my country and I do. I always have. And I have never been so proud of my country or felt so American as I stood on Utah Beach in France, scattering my dad's ashes and paying homage to all those Americans and Allies who were there on DDay. So how dare Sarah Palin insinuate that I am un-American, and unpatriotic? (And have us think that all Americans are Joe Six-Packs and soccer moms? I don't even like beer OR soccer. Shut UP already, lady!)
This is the election of our lifetime. In our Nevada training, the team leader said there hasn't been this much excitement since Robert Kennedy (and oh God, please don't let anything like that happen), and before that, FDR. So it's not only important for our country to get involved, but important for ourselves as a personal point in history. This may be the most historically significant election we will ever live to see, for so many reasons. And it has felt good to take part in it.
But even if I hadn't done the phonebank or gotten a tee shirt or anything like that, I have, in fact, helped to change one significant thing. My sweet, sweet 83 year old mom, who has voted Republican since, well, since as long as I've been aware of it, is voting for Obama and No on the evil Prop 8 (the ban on gay marriage). A member of the Republican party called her yesterday and she told them, "I'm voting for Obama." and when pressed about Prop 8 she said, "I can't. In my heart I know it's wrong. Why stand in the way of someone's happiness?" I love my mom. (No matter who or what she votes for, I love her.) Now, that's change I can believe in.
So now, in the last few days of the election, see what you can do. Volunteering has felt amazing, but above all else, you have to vote. You just have to. The entire world is counting on us. We have to get it right.
VOTE NOVEMBER 4th!!!
Nineteen down,78 to go.