I skipped the two presidential elections that took place after my 18th birthday. Mostly due to apathy — the general sense of “who gives a f##k” that moody teenagers and twentysomethings love to flaunt — but also due to an extreme lack of education. It’s not that the public school system of Jefferson County, Kentucky failed me, or that the five colleges I attended for my undergraduate work let me down; I was knowledgeable in that realm. Instead, my ignorance was in world issues, in the happenings of everyday life. In high school, I knew I was a Bill Clinton fan, but really only because he was a Democrat and he made my mother happy. I knew nothing of his politics or what he was doing to better the country and the world. He could play the saxophone and he gave my mother the vapors, enough said.
When 2000 rolled around, and Bush and Gore were battling it out, I remember watching the debates with my friends Ken and Danny. They were both for Bush, which I never fully understood because he seemed a little simple, but again, my good friends supported somebody, so that was good enough for me. While they watched the two go back and forth on the issues, I wondered aloud who would win in a dual. My money was on Bush, because he was from Texas and could easily handle a six-shooter. Gore looked like he had sausage fingers, which, obviously, would hamper his ability to squeeze the trigger. Obviously. When that election ran into the next year, I never understood what the hubbub was all about. “Who cares? A president is a president is a president. Pick a name out of a hat and let’s get going. If it happens to say Bob Barker, tough. He’s the president.” The basic idea that picking a president is important alluded me, never occurred to me for a second. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
I was a little more in the know in 2004. What I knew is that I hated Bush — I hated his smugness, his inability to admit his mistakes, and his penchant for causing derision in the country. The problem was I attended a school in a conservative area, and my desire not to offend anybody in my program (Religious Studies) kept me from further exploring the issues. My naivety and general lack of backbone kept me from speaking my mind. Deep down, I knew that I supported gay marriage and women’s rights, but would I ever express these opinions in a class full of Southern Baptists? Never. I’d be cast out like a leper, branded a Sodomite, never allowed to return. Do I regret this? Of course, certainly after being a witness to the last four years, but in my defense, it’s not like the Democratic Party did a good job of exciting its base. There were a lot of people like me out there — those still young but a little older and wiser than they used to be, open minds dying to be used. These people should have been grabbed by the shoulders and shaken like a martini, screaming “Get involved!” This didn’t happen, so I elected (no pun intended) to stand idly by and spend my time watching Brendan Fraser movies. Seemed like more fun at the time. This was only four years ago. Doesn’t seem like that long, really. I don’t feel like I’ve changed that much as a person, but if you would have asked me in 2004 that in four short years, I’d not only vote, but openly campaign for a candidate, I would have slapped you in the mouth and had you committed for crazy person talk.
So, how did this change take place? It’s simple, really: Somebody asked for my support. That’s it. Such a radical concept, I know. The wave of excitement that came with the Obama campaign was tsunami sized, and this was not by accident. After 8 years of frustration, of a divided country, it was no shock that the majority of the population needed something, someone, to rally behind. This could have been Hillary Clinton, very easily it could have been. But that’s not what happened. Hillary was not gathering support from people like me (the formerly apathetic) at the same level that Obama was. How was Obama more successful? He was more inclusive, more open. His hope was to make those that didn’t have a reason to give a damn, give a damn. He reached out to college students, to minorities, to the poor, anyone that ranked low in previous voter turnout. This was a call for help, and people weren’t just jumping on a bandwagon here. They didn’t start to care simply because an African-American was running. No, they cared because Obama ideologically spoke to them. This, they believed (and, obviously, they still do), was a man that cares, cares about them, about the country, about everything that truly matters. It’s no coincidence that his campaign broke financial records. This was a groundbreaking campaign, a genuine “from the ground up” phenomenon, and I am so incredibly grateful to have been a part of it.
All day Tuesday I was anxious. So anxious that when I was at my desk at work, I felt like I could throw up without a moment’s notice. Barack Obama had to win. This wasn’t even in question. If his monumental campaign failed, then I would have failed, and as a brand new “person who cares,” I’m not sure I could have handled the heartbreak. Life is so much simpler when you don’t get involved, when politics are just something everyone else has to deal with. “I don’t vote, none of this involves me anyway.” I can’t tell you how many times I said those words. If I had a nickel for every time, then, well, I guess I’d have a couple of bucks, but still, that’s a lot of nickels. But those days are long gone. Now that I’ve immersed myself in this world, I can’t imagine I’ll ever turn back. After screaming with joy when the election was called for Obama, and witnessing firsthand how important this was to the crowd around me, I can never go back. After holding back tears during his acceptance speech, realizing that this was a moment captured in time, a moment that will be studied in history books decades from now, I can never go back. And after an entire nation came together and did something decent, something that seemed unimaginable only last year, I can never go back. And it is my hope, my wish, that those still standing in the background, still feeling like their opinion doesn’t matter, will be given a reason to care one day. You know why? Because everyone deserves to feel like I did last night, at least for a moment. It would be a human rights violation otherwise.