I dug up some artifacts from Nov. 4, 2008, the day Barack Obama won the highest office in the land. I was in Chicago, 24 and a bit, an uninsured temp worker editing brochures for the American Medical Association about the nearly 50 million Americans who didn’t have health insurance then. First, I wrote this:
Cynicism is easy. It’s safe. It keeps you insulated from disappointment and makes allowances for you to feel protected in all possible outcomes.
To ask this electorate, which had its heart so thoroughly broken in 2000 and 2004, to hope as it has done this year, is incredible.
What we’ve seen, what people have done for each other, the stories they’ve shared, is incredible.
Always remember this.
Cynicism is easy.
Hope takes elbow grease and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
Later that evening, before I left to go to Grant Park to await the results, I posted this:
I want to say something, for all of you who can’t be here right now.
There’s something magical happening in Chicago. The weather has taken this freakishly beautiful turn, and it’s been low 70s when we should be battling gray skies and blustery wet winds. Everywhere you go, people are wearing Obama buttons. I can’t describe what it’s like, seeing all those little flashes people are wearing. It’s just something you catch in passing, but it’s true: I’ve never seen people get like this. There are five or ten Obama buttons or t-shirts in eyeshot at any given moment you walk down a street, and that’s just without looking closely.
It’s everybody, too. It’s old men and construction workers and students and marketing managers and people behind counters and executives and just. It’s everybody. It’s everybody. Obama. This skinny guy with big ears and a funny name. Obama.
On my lunch break, a coworker and I went to the Freedom Museum at the Trib Tower. It’s an entire museum, free of charge, dedicated to the struggle for equality and free expression. A group of kids was there, running around and watching the short films and rigging the electoral map consoles and lining up eagerly to toss their tokens in the Obama box, to “vote” at the end of the tour. I passed all the displays about women’s suffrage and Native American rights and banned books and censorship and hate speech and eminent domain and marriage equality and it was all I could do to not cry.
On the bus home, an older gentleman in full Uncle Sam gear declared in an English or Australian accent that he’d lived in this country for 56 years and this was the first time he’d ever felt anything about an election. He then led the bus in a song of his own composition. I wish I’d taken down the lyrics.
Then, miraculously, after the thunderous scream shook hundreds of thousands of onlookers when CNN called Ohio, my home state, for Obama, after the crew called a soundtrack for the president-elect of the United States, I recorded this phone message:
I say this so you won’t forget that it can go the other way, that your hard work and screams for truth and justice won’t always go unheeded, mocked and crushed. Remember the other inauguration, that in January 2009, like me, you maybe heard this piece and wept:
Dignity is still real. Meanwhile:
Stay brave, friends. Take care of yourselves; we’re going to need you soon.