Sixteen days before Election Day, I found myself on a half dozen interviews for campaign positions with several of the hundreds of grassroots’ nonprofits canvassing for Obama. The position of choice was canvass director, though I admittedly had no organizing experience.
At the time, I was on leave from NYU film, having recently moved out of my apartment and into my sister’s, living out of a duffel bag while working at a freelance editing job I hated. Since I wasn’t doing anything particularly meaningful, I figured I might as well pack my things, take a bus to Virginia or Ohio, and start working for change.
According to the pundits, Obama has had that same effect on a lot of people, the formerly apathetic turned staunch activists.
Growing up, though my dad sat talking politics around the table with my uncles regularly, they mostly traded stories of corruption. How we Africans were digging ourselves into deeper political trouble, maybe even disappearing into black holes of despair with HIV/AIDS, never to return again. The problems were deemed intractable and talk of activism would have been laughed out of the house.
And then, in 2006, a son of Kenyan and Kansan parentage became a beacon of hope galvanizing a political movement of concerned citizens around the globe. Barack Obama rebuked the policies of the freakishly despotic Dubya on a platform of hope and change.
As basic as it seemed, what excited us most was the idea that changing our level of civic engagement was both the means to Obama's victory and an end in itself. That we could potentially overturn an entrenched political regime, dating back to the Reagan era, while becoming agents of change in our communities and the world – some for the first time ever.
I was inspired, albeit late in the political game, and spoke with a few friends about my intentions to work for change.
"You're not a white college boy from Nebraska," one retorted, unimpressed with my vision of leading a struggling campaign office in a swing state. He thought I had no business becoming a cog in a political machine, a driftless wanderer coasting along on Obama's coattails. I had always been a person with vision who needed no compass guiding me in the right direction.
Maybe he was right, or maybe he wasn’t. But having gotten a campaign job offer, I found myself stalling and ultimately turning it down. Though the campaign’s message was charismatic and mystical – as some might construe Obama's ascendancy – I was stuck to my sister's couch questioning why I was so eager to run off into the political fray. Maybe I was trying to prove something to myself, or to my future children, who might ask what I was doing when Obama was elected.
Come November 4, I was still stuck to the couch, though I left early for work to vote, joining a line that stretched around two Brooklyn city blocks. As the day wore on I was cautiously optimistic, watching as Obama took Ohio and Florida, equally fearing that which I wanted most. When the results came in and he was named President so easily, so elegantly, without the Supreme Court battle I had expected, I was filled with a mixture of joy, hope, and disbelief.
Screaming, crying, and dancing, I spent the night at the Libation party watching Obama’s acceptance speech, as accompanied by DJ Ian Friday’s afrobeat grooves, projected on a white bed sheet suspended from the ceiling. Outside the streets were teeming with happy, hopeful people, strangers laughing and embracing.
Together we – a collection of black, brown, yellow, red, and white; old and young; gay and straight; male and female; rich and poor people; who were never supposed to have the right to vote – had helped change the world.
The celebrations around the globe validated the fact that Obama's victory was a win for us all – a collective exhalation of a centuries-held breath waiting to see if we, as oppressed peoples, would ever be deemed worthy, trusted, respected, and intelligent enough to become the masters of our own destiny, and ultimately lead the world.
Seeing a bit of Obama in myself, I was left wondering, "What is the change I wish to see in my own life?" Wondering why – apart from a short doc I shot of some canvassers in downtown Brooklyn – I sat idly by while history was unfolding.
I offer that, perhaps, it is only through Barack Obama's election to the Presidency that I have seen my full potential. Reflected in a way that is both dazzling and blinding as a minority, as a black woman, and as an African. It was the unattainable, now attained, that leaves us all questioning how we've set our own goals and measured our successes.
Whether we truly believe that we are deserving, capable, and intelligent enough for our wildest dreams to come true.
Over the last few weeks, I have wanted to walk out of my job for the last time, sell all of my belongings, and live by my wits and words – yet find myself glaringly inaudacious, as measured and cautious in my response to his/our achievement as was Obama’s acceptance speech.
As did the President elect, I realize that there is an uphill climb where we're going, and that hard work is the only way to get there. While I am elated to be on the path – with him in spirit – I am sobered by the journey ahead.
Nevertheless, I hope that Obama’s message of change will catalyze an era that revolutionizes and transforms each and every one of our lives toward something bolder, prouder, and more audacious. Now and forever.
YES WE CAN,
The AFRican Blogger