Let me tell you a little coming of age story. When I started high school, George W. Bush was elected into office; he was re-elected my Freshman year of college. Those were important years for me. Looking back, it’s strange to think that during the eight years which have shaped my adult self (though what kind of adult that may be is still fluid), we’ve had a president who represented so many things that I despised. My liberal peers (those born around 1986) and I began to form our political consciousnesses under a president we were ashamed of.
Naturally, most of us had political opinions before high school. In eighth grade, we dutifully wasted time in my American history and civics class talking about the Starr Reports. In sixth grade, another teacher tried to explain to the boys in my class, who were high on their new surges of testosterone, why bombing Iraq was not a matter to be taken lightly. But in those years, we still relied on adults to explain the hard things to us. We still saw the world in black and white.
My high school was a conservative oddity in Northern California–a sort of black hole in the midst of all the college professors and Silicon Valley tycoons. Those of us who were liberal were called “pussies” (their term, not mine.) or overly emotional thinkers who didn’t really understand the economy. Even our civics teacher laughed at us when another student and I said that we’d be comfortable going to the principal and asking to start a gay-straight alliance. I spent high school very angry.
I was angrier still when the quirk of my mid-November birthday prevented me from voting in the 2004 election. I think being on a college campus, particularly a very liberal one, made it sting even more. As a college freshman, not only did I feel like an adult (or at least, old enough to have the privileges of one), but I was also surrounded by such political fervor that I felt alienated from. So I took action: I registered voters in Minnesota at an Ani DiFranco concert. I marched in a peaceful rally around town with other students and town residents out of frustration at the two weak candidates and Bush’s triumph. I’ll never forget the day after election 2004: students walked around college in stunned silence. In empathy, my observational drawing professor told his class of moping freshmen of his disappointment following the first election he could vote in, the Nixon/McGovern race.
I’m telling you this so that you understand how I (and others of my age-group) grew politically. We took refuge in “The Daily Show” because laughing was easier than anger. Whenever a friend of mine went on a study abroad program, they would joke in the months before they left about pretending to be Canadian, and one of the questions they would inevitably have to answer upon their return was “How did people react toward you as an American?” I felt completely cynical towards this government whom I did not elect, who did not respect women, who believed many of my closest friends–for reasons of race, religion, or sexuality–were second class citizens, who called the most patriotic people I knew traitors, who made fun of the things that were important to me: literacy, science, education, intellectual pursuits. They did not take us, the “youth vote” who failed to save Kerry in 2004, seriously. I’m not saying we suffered or were marginalized like so many other groups in America; I’m just explaining where some of us came from.
Tonight, my flatmate and I went over to a friend’s house for an election night party. Just as we arrived, McCain began his concession speech. We were shocked. For the first time in eight years, the election was decided by 8PM pacific time. No hanging chads, no staring at Ohio with bated breath. It ended quietly, gracefully. And there in the tv room we were giddy, clapping and screaming along with the crowd on the television.
You see, we realized how much Obama’s election has changed everything we’d come to accept for the past eight years. As we watched a re-run of the Daily Show election special, I was struck by how little I needed John Stewart (though it was still entertaining). I’m not saying Obama’s perfect, but I do believe he’s a president who has the ability to do this country proud. And I genuinely appreciate that he, or his persona if you’d rather, does not talk down to the American people or affect stupidity for the sake of “Joe six-pack.” For the first time in eight years, I feel genuinely hopeful about my country. Truly, it’s a very strange feeling.
But my election post would not be complete without me expressing my utter dismay over Prop. 8. Though I refuse to call it until the very last vote is counted–we knew going into this that it would be a very close race–I cannot believe that so many people would vote for a proposition that should not have even been an issue in the first place. If Prop. 8 passes, it’ll be an ugly blotch on our state and this country. I have no more words for it.
EDIT- I was debating editing that last paragraph there, but I think I’ll keep it. I still had hope then, and I’ll keep this post hopeful. As for now, I’m crushed. I feel so sad for my friends who will no longer be able to marry the people they love; I feel so sad for the people I do not know who will no longer be able to marry the people they love; and I feel ashamed on behalf of other straight people who do not have the sense to feel ashamed of what they have done.