I have never been into politics. I’ve never cared, really.
In 2004 I voted in my first presidential election. I was 24 years old. Before that, I hadn’t even been registered to vote. Even then, I cast a vote based on what someone else told me. Based not on my own research and opinions, but just on what I’d heard. I didn’t care enough to put any amount of effort into my vote. I figured I didn’t really make a difference anyway. What was one vote, one way or another, in the grand scheme of things?
I don’t remember when I first heard of Barack Obama. I don’t remember exactly when it was that his name and the presidency first connected in my mind, but I do remember picking up The Audacity of Hope for the first time and thumbing through the pages. I was working in the bookstore, and this book was a new release that hadn’t made it as big as it would eventually become. Just in flipping through, I was astounded at some of the things I saw.
“In a country as diverse as ours, there will always be passionate arguments about how we draw the line when it comes to government action. That is how our democracy works. But our democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect: if liberals at least acknowledged that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his gun that they feel about their library books, and if conservatives recognized that more women feel as protective of their right to reproductive freedom as evangelicals do of their right to worship.”
“If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.”
I was impressed. And, you know, who wouldn’t be? The guy was eloquent. He rang true. I made a mental note to learn more. And then, as it would happen, just that night, or maybe the next – I heard his name in passing on the television. This guy – the one on the cover of the book, with the nice smile and the weird name – was thinking about running for president against Hillary Clinton and whoever the other people were. I decided to look him up and see what they were saying about him.
And just like that – I started paying attention. I started paying a lot of attention.
If you’re reading this, you know how it turned out. How I turned out, anyway. I did look him up, and I liked what I found. Once I sifted through all off the (to borrow a phrase from a college friend of mine) Chicken Little nonsense and discovered that he was not Muslim or the AntiChrist or the end of the world as we knew it, I liked everything that I found. I found a decent, solid human being, with what I perceived to be a good heart and a true hope for a country that had little hope left. A person who did not claim to be perfect, but asked for our help anyway. Who showed us that by joining together we can accomplish great things.
I am proud to say that I was a supporter from the very beginning.
During the primaries, Josh and I huddled together on a cold bed, trying to position ourselves just right to capture the wireless signal from across the street, so that we could refresh CNN.com and watch the votes be counted.
In September I went to Oxford, MS to roam the Grove at Ole Miss the day of the first Presidential Debate. I wore my Obama shirt, carried my Obama sign. Wore Obama buttons. I was surrounded that day by both sides, and it was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I was hated by strangers, I was loved by strangers. It was almost surreal. At one point during the day I took a walk up a sidewalk to find a bathroom, and as I was coming out of the building I passed a very tall, very muscley and stout security guard. I nodded at him as I passed, and continued on my way – bogged down as I was with signs and stickers and all. I wasn’t twenty feet past him when I heard, “Young lady? Young lady!”
Now, I’ll be honest. As I turned around, I was wondering what I’d done wrong. I couldn’t think of anything. I wasn’t indecent. I wasn’t speeding – after all, I was on foot, and I’m not that quick or anything. So unless this guy was a McCain fan, I couldn’t think of any reason I could have offended him.
Turns out I hadn’t offended him at all.
He walked up to me, and I could see him deciding what to say. He reached out and touched the edge of my “Obama ’08″ sign.
“I just want you to know, I…I’m on your side.”
His voice shook just a little, and the gray of his hair seemed to stand out even more against the rest of his dark skin. I didn’t know what to say, really. I didn’t know why he picked me.
He gave me a hug, he told me he was glad to see a “little white girl in an Obama shirt.”
He winked at me as I walked away.
I saw him several more times that day, and each time he waved and gave me a big thumbs up.
I hope he blew the doors off the voting booth on Tuesday. I hope he had a party when the President was announced. I hope he tells his grandkids all about the history he was a part of.
I know I will.