One of France’s three major television networks was in Shorewood last week, at the Alliance Francaise, to put together an election story scheduled to air after the election. The reporters wanted to know how women here feel about the candidates and the possible impact of the results on our corner of the country. So about ten of us became a backdrop: we sat at a table, nibbled cookies, sipped tea, and listened to the interviewees give concise descriptions of Obama. As you’ve probably noticed, there aren’t many McCain supporters in Shorewood, and none showed up.
Afterwards I got to thinking about the impact of the election here even before it has taken place, the plethora of signs, the neighborhood filled with canvassers for Obama, the excitement,
the endless political conversations. Almost everyone I know, even those who have never volunteered before, is working for Obama.
At the Fitness Center on Saturday, every thread of conversation I picked up was about the election. “Did you vote yet?” “...two hour wait in Milwaukee.” “In Shorewood there’s no wait at all...” “Thank God, it’s almost over,” said someone, but the discussion didn’t stop there. It continued from weight machine to weight machine. Politics and fitness seem to go together. It’s all I’ve overheard for the past several months! At the gym. And at the cafes, the meetings, the grocery stores, in front yards, from passers-by on cell phones.
Yes, there’s relief that we nearing the end of the line, there’s excitement, there’s hope. Then there’s the other strain, the main strain, everywhere I go: “I’m so scared!” People are worried, that’s getting more prevalent. What’s going to happen? What if they steal it again? There’s the sense that we all might be in a sinking boat, togetherness in fear. Then there are those who say it can’t happen when there’s a landslide. This morning I heard a sobering interview of Mark Crispin Miller on DemocracyNow. Read the whole interview, and I’m sure you’ll remember to bring the number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, to the polls. If any problems arise, use it.
Ghosts prowl the earth this week. Those who once fought against injustice have been invoked, wished for, remembered. As for me, I’m thinking of my mother. She fought for civil rights in every way she could, paraded, sat in, boycotted, spoke out. She gave scholarships to African-American children so that her nursery school was always integrated. She died a year before African-Americans were left behind on soggy roofs in New Orleans while whites were saved and five years before this country elected a president who is African-American.
A man who amazed us with his serenity under pressure, with his positive attitude, his brilliance, judgment, eloquence, and humaneness, rose up and wowed the world. I at first thought he should wait four years, then saw he didn’t have to. He knew how to run a campaign, so much so that the people showed up in droves. The GOP couldn’t rig enough machines, couldn’t sufficiently disenfranchise the elderly, the young, the poor, people of color, couldn’t cleanse enough voter rolls, throw away enough ballots, play enough dirty tricks, couldn’t steal this election the way they did in 2000 and 2004.
And on Wednesday, despite corporate media, this was a new country, at least for now, and I could walk the streets of Shorewood to thumbs up, hugs, smiles, to calls of “Aren’t you happy?”
Yes, I am. We’ll never know what the real total would have been without chicanery and glitches.
I always had confidence in the optical scanners we use here. Similar machines caused problems in many states on Tuesday. Some crashed, jammed, or scanned incorrectly. Some voters didn’t realize they had to connect the front and back of the arrow on the paper ballots and instead drew circles around them. We can create computer chips that hold more information than a myriad of human brains; perhaps we can develop a reliable method to vote. I certainly hope one of the first bills before the new congress will be election reform, that we’ll have a nationwide system of voting with a mandated paper trail so we won’t have to live in fear of not being counted.
I do wonder what it’s like to be Obama, to create a landslide so powerful his opponents were buried, then wake up the next morning buried along with them, and us. He has to gather the rubble and rebuild the world, stop the meltdown of the economy and of the icebergs, re-form the health-care system. And he doesn’t seem daunted. Though he’s a moving speaker, he’s not a demagogue. The question now is: though he’s a thinker, a doer, a mover, is he a demigod? That’s what we need.
Home-based group discussions of the issues that shape our lives should be taking place everywhere in this nation, and on a regular basis. The Sunday Soup and Salad Salon has been meeting once a month for four years, and whether I agree or disagree with the ideas expressed, they force my thoughts to travel in unexpected directions.
About forty people showed up at our post-election salon. Everyone was relieved that the election wasn’t stolen, was euphoric, optimistic, reveled in the sense of solidarity with each other and with the rest of the country. And most believed in Obama’s good intentions. Yet there also was skepticism, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but....” And there were those who wondered, with such a deep divide, how do we heal? Then there’s the question: what next? The base is expanded, energized, excited, expectant, where do we go from here?
An African-American woman noticed an unaccustomed deference from a clerk, and that’s what I was thinking most about afterwards. Especially when a friend said to me that deference, but for all the wrong reasons, is creepy.
Is it? What are right reasons? I suspect most human interactions are plagued by so-called wrong reasons, by hidden agendas, even by agendas hidden from those who’ve written them. People often don’t recognize the “real” reason for their actions. Even the more self-analytical specimens of our species fall short.
Is it creepy if a latent, or even a blatant, racist looks at an African-American with more respect because a black man is our president-elect? Perhaps that racist will begin to realize that we’re all just human beings. What starts as a wrong reason could ultimately become a trigger for positive behavior.
And perhaps the flipside of this is true: perhaps the clerk didn’t treat her with more deference, perhaps she was simply feeling more self-confidence, feeling that more possibilities have opened up. Perhaps she was feeling more pride in being black.