Monday, November 03, 2008

People get ready

This election cycle has frayed my last nerve. The enormity of the moment, the glimmer of light at the end of an eight-year, grim-ass dark tunnel, the sheer duration of the battle...all of these combined have left me dropping my emotions all over the street like canned goods out of a ripped grocery bag. I am hair-trigger weepy, starting at 6:30 this morning when I saw two people standing on an I-5 overpass in a driving rain, holding aloft a gigantic banner that bore a single word: HOPE. I looked at Joan Walsh's recommendations for an Election-Eve cry on Salon, and teared up at each one of them, had to go back to the Donuts and Bacon campaign (via Mike) just to get my wits about me. So when I read this afternoon that Senator Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, had passed away, I had to put my head down on the desk again.

I was raised by a single mom and, effectively, by her mom; my grandmother was inarguably a far more influential and active and engaged presence in my life than my father ever was. I referred to her often as "my third parent." This is far from the only parallel that leads me to believe that Barack Obama understands something of my experience, can speak to and for me...but this among many things strikes a deep chord.

My Grammy weighed less than 100 pounds soaking wet, and upon every visit would ply you with lemon-poppy seed cake until you begged for mercy. She was also fiercely protective of her family, proud of our accomplishments to a mortifying degree, and unabashedly liberal in her politics. Like Obama's grandmother, she would have been 86.

In November 1992, I was in my first quarter of graduate school and had just moved into my own apartment, so recently that I was still assigned to the polling place nearest the house where I'd grown up. On election day I stopped by "home," and together Grammy and I walked down to the defunct middle-school library, cast our ballots for Bill Clinton, and went home to cross our fingers and bite our nails, because there was no Internet to hover on. I had an afternoon class that day, and most of us adjourned to a campus pub afterwards, where Democratic bedlam rolled out in expanding waves from every announcement of poll returns. At some point I called Grammy--via pay phone--to shout my joyous, tipsy disbelief, the entire bar roaring "Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" to George H. W. behind me. Here's what she said: "The bars are open, on Election Day?" Apparently, the blue laws in Washington had been more draconian in her time.

Tomorrow morning I'll go alone, to the basement of United Evangelical, probably in the torrential downpour the weather peeps are predicting. I am casting my vote for Barack Obama, and I'll be thinking of my Grammy, and his, and my aunt PJ, who was a devoted campaign volunteer before cancer swept her under and away. Of all the people, these few among them, who dreamed of and fought for this moment but did not live to see it. And I am awed: by how privileged I am to do this. By the epic significance of this instant in American history. By the future that I am putting my hand to, there in the booth. By the hope I have clenched in my fist.

We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.


Grayson said...

I'm not given to crying for almost anything popular except two folk songs (Christmas in the Trenches, Small Victories) but I did tear up when I heard Obama's grandmother died. That just broke a little piece of my heart right off.

ar_kay_tee said...

Wow, well put, Kim. I was so sad when I heard about his grandmother, too. This has to be an incredibly difficult time for him.

I lost it last night and just couldn't hold it in any longer ( So, I spewed it all out on my blog. Not something I'd usually do, since I always try to be polite and listen and see all sides of the issue. But this is so close now and I'm just wreck. I hope that we have something to celebrate tomorrow.