Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Little Bit of History

I don't think I have been as moved by the act of casting a ballot since I turned eighteen.

I began to realize just how different this election felt to me as I left school. In spite of my eagerness to learn about voter turnout and to begin the election night past-time of trying to scry the vote, I turned the news off as soon as it came on and rode home in silence. It just felt wrong to clutter my mind with commentary on the way to do something that, I suddenly grasped, had an importance to me that was more than usual.

I did miss voting one year. I had injured my back--pretty seriously, as it happens--and I was in a lot of pain.

Other than that, I've kept my dates with history, but I do forgive myself for standing the country up at the polls that one time. Life happens.

But, I realized, I was not going to be OK with it if anything kept me away from the polls this year.

Not if I broke down by the side of the road. Not if I were in the hospital. Not if some weird little glitch developed with my registrations somehow. Nothing was going to be acceptable to me if it interfered with my ability to exercise my vote today.

Here's the thing: I live in Massachusetts. It really is pretty well a foregone conclusion how Massachusetts is going to vote. And the likelihood of some last-minute interference with my voting, regulatory or through direct tampering, is also pretty remote. You could make a pretty good case that my vote doesn't matter much, and it would not make any real difference if I didn't show up at the polls today for whatever reason.

But, oh, it would have mattered to me!

I was a little freaked when I got to my normal polling place and found, not the usual sign-holders just beyond the precinct limit, but signs telling me the polling place had been moved. I'm still a little worried--will it have flustered my daughter out of voting? I know that it will not. But mamas stay nervous for a lifetime, I guess. At least for the big things.

This is a big thing.

On the way out of the polls, I felt a huge sigh of relief escape me. An older man, looking on, smiled.

"Now you can rest," he said.

Yes. Oh, praise heaven and history, now I can rest.

Now I am part of history. Now I can tell my grandchildren--it really feels as though I will be able to tell them, one day--

"I voted for the first black President of the United States."

It's been a long time coming. But I think something very good is near.

I wept as I went got back in my car.


anj said...

This Friend speaks my mind and heart. I voted at 6:45 am.

Ali said...

The "now you can rest" part is what has been bothering me.... Because it should be just the opposite, shouldn't it? I mean, I've read so many posts today about people feeling relief, even exaltation and joy, after casting their vote. And to be honest, all the stories only seem to indicate, to me, that the ritual experience was a success, that people feel gratified by what it represents rather than what it actually accomplishes. It's a bit, um, well, pornographic, in a way...

I don't know. I've just been feeling out of sorts about it all day. I can't help feeling (unlike every other person in the country, apparently) that something is very wrong about the whole thing. I hate to be a downer, but it's one of those times when the scaredy-cat who gets killed off first says quietly to herself, "I have a bad feeling about this, guys..."

Aquila ka Hecate said...

'Way to Go, America!

Terri in Joburg

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Ali, I know what you are saying. And in a way, I do agree with you. What has been passing through my head this morning is Martin Luther King's words from the night before his assassination: "I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

I think that we, the American people, have indeed arrived at a Promised Land together, and it is worth honoring and rejoicing in.

But you don't have to be much of a student of the Bible to remember that the story does not end with the arrival in the Promised Land. We do not live in a country with justice for all, freedom for all, compassion for all. We live in a country that is deeply and often bitterly divided, in an ecosystem under siege, and in a time of wars that will not be easily resolved.

And Barack Obama, the man, is just a guy.

But he is borne on a wave of history, and his victory represents the sacrifices of thousands over the last three hundred plus years. Today, I am pausing to rejoice and give thanks.

Tomorrow, buoyed up by the knowledge that, sometimes promises are kept, I'll work to move into that Promised Land, and to inhabit it and fill it with the promises not yet kept.

There is a place in the world for ritual experiences and thanksgiving. For me, at least, it's a great antidote to cynicism. I know there is work to do--I haven't forgotten.

But today is for a different kind of remembering, at least for me.

Blessed be.

Anonymous said...

Many tears of joy have been shed in the past 12 hours. Mine too!

The president of the U.S. is just a person, but being a figurehead for the hopes and values of a nation is one of his/her most important roles.

Certainly we can't "rest". First we celebrate. Then, we go to work. For the first time in many years, activists may actually be able to move forward into good ground, rather than merely trying to contain damage.

Blessed, blessed be!

~Flaneuse in DC

Erik said...

Rod Dreher over at Crunchy Con passed along an interesting quote from another conservative blogger, Bible Girl:

"...I can't escape the words of Kings. God will judge a leader by one thing: his faithfulness to God's Word on matters for which the Christian position is clear...

I believe that Barack Obama will be our next president; the hand of God is upon him. If you read Kings, though, that can cut many ways."

Just a perspective that I hadn't heard before...

Karen said...

My partner mailed in his overseas ballot in September, and kept emailing the county elections board to ensure that they'd received it, they were counting it, it hadn't got lost since they got it...

It's good and right to celebrate, to feel relief.

America's first black president is a big deal. It's the beginning of healing, and healing isn't always easy or pretty or quick. But Obama's colour is massively symbolic.

What's also hugely important is that the US voted for a man who refused to lower himself to his opponent's level; who used his pastor's remarks as a "teachable moment" about America's history and the need for healing; who has constantly emphasised that it is important to remember how much work has to be done, while inspiring people to go out and do it; who has experience working with people from a wide range of backgrounds, bringing them together despite (or even because of) their differences - being a community organiser might be derided by the political elite and the far right-wing, but it is a perfect background for a president; someone who has taught Constitutional law; someone who has constantly emphasised that the divisive red state-blue state mentality encouraged by his opponents is not representative of the complexity of the US, and serves only to disempower.

You've elected a man who inspires others to go out and listen to each other, and that's going to be hard and painful and brilliant.

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