I have been so caught up in the work and the moment, and a bit of fear of the worst, that I haven’t thought much about how amazing Tuesday could be. Will be. Today I let myself imagine it for a minute. Truly imagine it. I even closed my eyes to help forgot that I was alone in a subway at 3am, going home to sleep for a few hours before heading back to Obama HQ to Get Out The Vote.
I visualized the moment we knew without a doubt, that Obama was the next President of the United States. It wouldn’t be at the concession, you can’t be happy then. It was the moment Obama steps out on stage in Grant Park and waved to the people of my town. The people I joined to elect Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor, the people I danced with in the South Side streets to celebrate the Bulls, those great Chicago people who were now going to send their Senator to the White House.
In my imagination, I felt happier than I ever have before. So happy that it made me wonder if I have ever even experienced happiness. Then I veered off into imagining making out with strangers and dancing on tabletops under a rain of confetti, because that’s how all my “The War’s Over” fantasies end up. Sorry, I don’t have much experience with such things. My wars have always started and ended slowly, happiness arrives almost imperceptibly.
A few days ago, I was joking that I couldn’t wait for the election to be over so I could go back to caring about stupid things, but I realize now that this isn’t quite it. A nice middle-aged black woman who was doing data entry in our office helped me realize that, when she hollered at me for my glib comment. No, of course, I won’t want to go back to caring about stupid things. I plan to hold on to this hope, enthusiasm, commitment on November 5th and into the next decade. There is so much to do and I know, like so many people do now, that politics isn’t something outside of us, out of our control, or even something that you elect the best people to do and then you can happily go about your business. Politics is all of us, every day, staying engaged in what’s happening in our neighborhoods, in the world. Talking about it with our neighbors and friends, and most importantly, doing something. Volunteering creates community, community creates positive progress towards shared goals. We are the government, we are politics. We are what’s next. I don’t want to lose this. I want to work with all of these people again. I don’t want us to all go back to our own separate worlds.
I’ve worked in offices and fields with lots of different kinds of people from different races, religions, nationalities, which is often a source of self-made divisions. At my job at O’Hare, the white guys called me a sellout when I sat with the black guys (they even had a hand sign for it), the black guys disowned me when they caught me playing hackey sack. Very few of the black women liked me at all, except Doris who still says to say hey, and the white women, well, of course I didn’t want to hang with any group that would have me as a member. In my work in the jazz and comedy worlds, race and gender play a constant factor in many complex ways on and off stage.
But in the Obama office, and in this campaign, I don’t see this. I see people celebrating their differences not as a way to define or divide but as a way to share experience with others who share a common goal. Our differences are openly discussed, mocked, and celebrated. When we share our experience, it belongs to everyone, so we all feel like we belong, and this campaign really feels like it belongs to all of us. This victory will feel like it belongs to all of us. And this country will feel like it belongs to all of us again. Then we can get to the business of making it great.
Last Friday was Halloween and also the 13th anniversary of my father’s death. My father wasn’t a great father, but he did instill in me some ideas about the world, a healthy blend of ideas inherited from his American Communist mother and self-made Capitalist father. He had plenty of opinions but was never politically active, unless you count wearing a pink triangle on his stock trader’s jacket, an often-misunderstood message of civil rights solidarity. He didn’t even vote, “not since they killed Bobby.”
I had to be reminded to think about him on Friday because I was so busy volunteering for the campaign. When I did think about him, I thought to myself, Pops would not be sitting this one out. I think he would also have felt his hope restored, hope for this country, for others, and for himself. And that won’t be over on November 5th, that’s just the beginning.
Ok back to work and sleep perchance to dream, of strangers and tabletops and confetti.
Help us win this.