The Audacity of Hope
My senior year of high school was a roller coaster, as most of my friends from the time know. But as I graduated in the spring of 2004, things were mostly getting better. I remember watching the Democratic National Convention that summer with my closest friends. I liked John Kerry more because he wasn’t Bush than because of who he was. My best friend, however, significantly more involved than I was at the time, was excited about the Keynote from an up and coming potential senator with a funny name I couldn’t remember at the time. The only speech from that Convention I remember nowadays is that of Barack Obama. That one speech changed me from a person who was disconnected from politics to someone who wanted to understand, even if I didn’t understand yet.
I then was implanted into Smith. As I struggled to find a place my first semester, I found myself in a crowded tv room in a house full of passionate women who hoped to see the end of a Bush presidency. And slowly, as it looked less and less likely, people slipped out. The next day, I skipped a class for the first time and instead watched Kerry’s concession speech. I crossed campus to hand in my homework with a truly maudlin expression of my sadness– I had painted a tear on my face with eyeliner. I was not alone in my despondency, the entire campus felt defeated, deflated.
Then I remembered Obama’s keynote. I realized I wasn’t mourning John Kerry. I was mourning the fact that as much as many didn’t like George W. Bush, as much as people would have liked a different direction, we hadn’t been able to sell it. That we had a choice. We could settle into despondency, and we would never change– or we could work harder.
I had laid in a supply of sidewalk chalk, one of two methods of communication on campus (The other? The Daily Jolt.). I waited until dusk, and went around campus. “Midterms are in two years– We start working now”, in front of the library. But what really got me through was chalked outside of Chapin House– “Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!” It was from Obama’s Democratic National Convention Keynote. It was what I had to give.
I do not have an inspirational story about celebrating last night. I envy my friends who were surrounded by crowds on Pennsylvania Ave and Grant Park. I envy my friends who rushed out of dorms to celebrate with their school. I was in bed with my laptop, refreshing any number of news sites. You see, most of the day yesterday, I spent in front of an elementary school just outside of Richmond, Virginia. My boyfriend was part of the Protect the Vote campaign, and I was doing whatever needed doing- grabbing coffee, handing out sample ballots, whatever. There was up to an hour wait in the morning, but it was clear for the rest of the day.
There were only two incidents all day at the polling place– An inside poll worker received a complaint about the sample ballots– Now, “sample ballot” is a misnomer. The Democratic one listed all of the races and candidates on one side, with the Democrats bolded and first. On the other side was information on voting rights in Virginia. The Republicans listed only the Republican Candidates. Both were totally legal, and it was resolved quickly. Another woman complained to both sides as she went in that we should have to be farther away, and that she was going to change things. Both sides rolled our eyes.
My favorite was a man who showed up with his two children. As he walked up, I thought to myself that he looked like a Republican– in fact, he looked an awful lot like Joe the Plumber. But when the Republicans thought the same thing and approached him with their sample ballot… well, he did have some opinions. He wasn’t sure how well Obama would lead, how effective an executive he would be… But, as he explained to his children, as he squatted down and tried to explain voting to them, the country hadn’t been doing too well, and Obama wanted things to be different. Things weren’t going to be perfect with Obama–but they would be better. I had forgotten the basic premise– that there is no red America and blue America– there is only the United States of America.
But there was rain. Lots of rain. Lots of being cold and wet. And so, when I got home, I didn’t want to go out again. Sitting a home, warm and dry, we watched election coverage. When they had called Pennsylvania and Ohio, I knew it was good, I knew it was almost in the bag. But at 11? I finally was able to let myself believe. Finally. After years of wanting to, but not wanting to be hurt. After years of dreaming, but not wanting to hope out loud. Four years ago I dreamed of an Edwards/Obama ticket, someday. Today, I am often tearing up. Barack Obama will not make every choice the way I would hope he would. Already he has not. But today I have something to work towards. There are fights it looks like we did not win. But I not only believe that we can make progress, I believe that I can be a part of that progress.
Smith College is a very safe place for many people. Smith gave me a place to heal, and to grow. For four years, I did not have to fight everyone around me for the chance to be myself. I did not have to be an activist. I was safe inside “The Bubble.” I’m ready to get to work, now that I’m out.
The audacity of hope.
As President Bartlet always used to ask– What’s next?
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