The last night of Bush’s presidency, I was in DC with my campaign friends. We filled care packages for the troops earlier in the day. Michelle Obama, her girls, and Jill Biden were there. I took a photo of a grade-school boy talking to Michelle and got his grandmother’s email address to send her a copy. We went out to some upscale bar that night to meet up with other campaign alums. There were about 10 of us. Most wanted to be positive and focus on Obama. A few of us, me included, wanted to mark the ending of the Bush years. Once I got into the campaign, he’d seemed almost irrelevant. I’d been focused on the future. But that night I thought back on years past.
Starting in 9th grade, going past college graduation. Everything the US & world had been through. That day in 10th grade when a disaster movie came to life on the same island where my granddad slept, proving way horrifying than any film I’d seen. My personal evolution from going along with the war because I hoped the loudest voices around me were right, to becoming critical right as I was leaving Ben Davis. Then my realization, by the first month of college, that my thinking made me a liberal, although that had been a dirty word the last few years. Turning 18 and voting 2 weeks later, then dejectedly announcing the winner on my late-night college radio DJ set. Attending a huge anti-war rally in DC. Noticing Obama around 2006 and buying a shirt with him on it in the summer of 2007.
During most of my time at DePauw, I felt disenfranchised, disgusted, and hopeless about the presidency. It’s hard for me to put it into words, but if you knew me then, you have an idea. Perhaps you felt the same way. Lies, mismanagement, and propaganda were everywhere. I worried for my chosen field under No Child Left Behind. Most disheartening were the stories I knew of from Iraq, both in the news and in my personal circles. A guy from my HS died early in the war. A family friend came back and killed himself – we never knew why.
It may be a cliché now, but there was a reason “hope and change” resonated so deeply.
My last three semesters at DPU laid me very low. My mom’s cancer came back, I had a devastating student-teaching experience and decided not to pursue licensure, and my relationship with the education department took a deep nose dive. In the span of 6 weeks there were 4 deaths – our dog Lucy (hit by a car), the aforementioned family friend, a guy my boyfriend and I were friendly with at school (accidentally mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, if I remember right), and my grandmother (heart attack.) Right after, the boyfriend and I hit the rocks and broke up. I got mono. My best friends stabbed me in the back and I was hospitalized from mono complications. I had to miss a vacation and a school trip. I had money worries. And I’d been struggling with depression before any of this.
At the start of my final semester, I had to drop some classes and activities and move back into the dorms. It was lonely and sad. I’d drag myself to class, try to do my work, then sleep a lot. I was grateful Kelly was there. My interest in politics hadn’t changed, and I spent a lot of time watching political news and commentary from my bed. Around early March, I got an email from College Dems inviting any Obama supporters in the club to a Putnam County for Obama meeting. I’d been skipping most of my usual activities, but somehow this caught my eye. It felt worth checking out, I decided, and besides, I could eat dinner during the meeting.
As soon as the meeting began, I felt incredibly at home. I WANTED to canvass. The other students there were friendly and I wished I hadn’t focused on my old clique for the last 3.5 years. Despite fatigue and voice loss, I rode to Dayton to canvass the Huber Heights area before the Ohio primary. I knocked on dozens of doors in Greencastle. I made calls from my dorm room to Vermont, Pennsylvania, Montana, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. Back in Indy during spring break, I did paperwork for the campaign and apologized for being too tired to canvass that day. I saw Barack speak at Plainfield HS and made him laugh afterwards, when I yelled “Barack the vote!” while reaching over the crowd to shake his hand. I was losing fear and becoming happier. My empty spaces were getting refilled.
Since I’d ruled out teaching, the only thing I saw ahead was going back to Bath & Body Works, the place I’d worked at for years whenever I was in Indy. I was spending a lot of time on mybarackobama.com, the campaign’s social network and blogging platform, and I actually read all of the emails the campaign sent me. I learned of the summer fellowship and figured I might as well apply. When they encouraged us to choose a swing state, I just looked on the map for any swing state with a decent climate that I could drive to within two days. “Oh, Colorado. We went through there in 1997 and liked it. Okay, I’ll tell them Colorado. Whatever.” And so a few weeks later, I hit I-70 in my Taurus with way too much stuff thrown in the backseat.
And that’s how I got to that DC bar in January 2009. I thought of the shoe-throwing reporter and the Patriot Act. Of the bikers who shoved me at a war protest. Of my embarrassment when reading what other countries thought of us. The anger was easy to remember, but it didn’t feel so bad anymore when I thought of the impossible feat we’d pulled off. The Barack Obama era would begin tomorrow. I could breathe again.
Afterwards, we ended up in Chinatown doing sake bombs. 7 of us were staying at my campaign BFF’s family house. (It had once been owned by George McGovern.) We struggled to get a cab back. Then a large SUV pulled up and the next thing I knew, we were all riding in some random dude’s vehicle. He was not an licensed cabbie. I never learned if he did this all the time, or was just cashing in on the inauguration crowd. The only guy with us, Dan, talked to him from the passenger seat, while the rest of us zoned out in back. Dan was from Brooklyn and brought it up whenever he could work it into conversation, and the driver lit up when he mentioned it. “That’s where Biggie Smalls is from!”
“Oh yeah, yeah,” said Dan self-importantly.
The driver nodded, like they were business associates throwing around jargon. “You know, I was with Biggie the night he got killed. The Vibe party.”
“Ah, no way man, that’s cool. I wish I’d been there,” replied Dan, as if he wasn’t in grade school in 1997, just like I was. The driver kept authoritatively telling his preposterous account of that night, while Dan covered up his skepticism with increasingly enthusiastic reactions.
Sitting next to my campaign BFF Courtenay, looking out into the cold night full of revelers, I smiled to myself. Here we were. The reins were almost in hands I could trust. We’d made it through. We’d made it happen.