According to family lore, I was practically born political. Little William, all of four years of age, as my father likes to brag, stood up before his dad's business school students and proudly proclaimed, "They're gonna 'peach Nixon away!"
For the next 18 years, I was a staunch Democrat. I vaguely remember loving the election results in 1976. I wanted Kennedy to beat Carter and then wanted him to step down because he was making it too easy for Reagan. I was disgusted all throughout the Reagan/Bush years. I was even depressed that the 1988 Pennsylvania primary happened five days before I reached my majority, and I would never be able to vote for Jesse.
As a lifelong Dem, I should've been ecstatic over Clinton, but I wasn't. I was disgusted. Just the year before I was canvassing for the party, going door-to-door, to drum up support for what ultimately became the Family and Medical Leave Bill. I'd gone out of my way to make sure Harris Wofford beat Dick Thornburg for the PA Senate seat. But by '92, Rodney King and the riots had happened. I just couldn't believe in the American Experiment any longer, and nothing Clinton could say would make me think differently. I did vote for Carol Mosely Braun for Senate, though, and Lenora Fulani for Prez. that year. But that was it. I didn't want to vote again.
I'd become a Leftist, an anarchist to be more exact (don't laugh). I didn't want to vote anymore. I didn't want to give my stamp of approval to a system I no longer believed in. And, while I believed there were some philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, I didn't think those differences were fundamental. They still believed in the System. It was chicken or beef with them--no vegetarian option in sight. And I had a big beef with a country that allowed Rodney Kings, Desert Storms, death penalties, etc., to exist. Things had to change, and our system was not built for the fundamental changes I wanted. In fact, I thought the system was built so that one, elected official couldn't make that much of a difference in how this country was run.
W. changed all that. Leftist Bill, of course, greeted his "election" with self-satisfied smugness. While the true believers screeched that the election "proved" that "every vote counts," 2000 actually proved quite the opposite. When all was said and done, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, O'Connor, and Kennedy had the only votes that truly mattered in a country of over 250 million people. Quite the opposite of the Democracy we've been taught to value.
2000 seems like a lifetime ago. I was smug in my own ignorance, I soon came to realize. I thought Bush was just a harmless, little savant who'd be gone in four years. Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. I knee-jerked and was against the invasion of Afghanistan until I came to realize that every elected official in the history of the world would've invaded. It was the PATRIOT Act, the mass deportations, GITMO, FISA, all of it, that made me realize how dangerous the Bush Babee truly was.
The Iraq invasion put me over the top. Not only did I not believe the spiel nor did I disagree and protest the war, but that was one place where I could point to where it actually did matter who we had elected to the Presidency. Al Gore never would've ousted Saddam. No other elected official would've dared to get us into this elective war. None of them would've casually thrown out 30 years of military policy and committed our armed forces to a long, drawn-out war of occupation. No, this was personal for Bush, and if he'd have lost the Supreme Court vote, we never would've been bogged down in Mesopotamia.
The man had to be stopped. W. had to go. So, I registered to vote and, for the first time in 12 years, I did vote. For Kerry. And nothing depressed me more than W.'s re-election.
When 2008 rolled around, I figured I'd vote for the Dem who eventually won the nomination. I just knew that I didn't want the GOP in the White House again. When the primaries started, I only cared as a political junkie. I'm into the race horse, too, but I didn't feel personally invested.
I figured, despite common wisdom, Hillary would not win because of her baggage and lack of a (scrotal) sack. I thought Richardson was the most qualified, but America wasn't ready for a Latino POTUS. I liked Obama enough, but I thought he was a flash in the pan, someone white folks liked because he made them feel better about themselves ("See, I'm not racist--I like Barack Obama"). I just couldn't take the brother seriously. I figured, when the rubber hit the road and all those white people had to pull the lever, they'd ultimately go with the white guy, and the cutest white guy around was John Edwards.
But then Iowa happened, and I had to change my thinking. I mean, if all those lillies of the cornfields voted for the black man, I had to take Obama seriously.
Unfortunately, the Clintons came to the same conclusion. The attack was on, and it was dirty. There was Hillary belittling MLK and lauding LBJ for the Civil Rights movement (while I always marvel at LBJ's courage in pushing the legislation through, knowing his party would forever lose the "Solid South," let's be honest: LBJ died of old age; MLK, from a bullet), and then Bill totally discounted the black vote (after we vigorously supported him through thick and thin) saying "of course" we'd vote for Obama because he was black--never caring to admit that we black automatons didn't vote for Al Sharpton nor Carol Mosely Braun during their Presidential runs nor that we'd never support Alan Keyes. Our former Civil Rights heroes exposed themselves for chitlin'-eatin' table-scrappers perfectly willing to attack one of their own for the good of the almighty white folk. Andrew Young came out saying that Obama wasn't black, that Bill Clinton was blacker than him, and, in fact, Bill has "slept with more black women than Barack" (yeah, so did Strom Thurmond and Thomas Jefferson, what exactly was your point, Andy?). Then John Lewis was on The News Hour claiming that Obama was actually running a racist campaign. And I don't even want to talk about all the anti-Muslim shit the Clinton campaign pulled.
I watched and listened to all this in horror with RNC (Poohbutt's initials) in my arms. I can't speak for every black parent, but I was raised to believe that you fight the good fight, the right fight, in the hopes that those who come after you won't have to fight it. That you cannot end racism, maybe racism will never end, but you've got to do what you can do to chip away at its armor. That's what the generations before you--through the Middle Passages, through slavery and Jim Crow, through all of it--have done for you, and that's what you must do for your own children. I don't know how much I've actually done, but I had a child now. And there I was--with her and bottle in hand--watching Obama going through some of the same things I went through growing up writ large: attacks from blacks and whites for being too black, not black enough, a black radical, a sell-out, being all about race, not enough about race, of constantly using the Race Card. And I kept thinking, "This shit has got to stop."
So, for RNC and her future, I did what I thought I'd never do: I registered to vote as a Democrat (Maryland has closed primaries), and, because of my baby girl, I voted for Barack Obama. For her, I voted, I blogged, and while we were out campaigning for her grandfather, I (foolishly?) hoped that those white Virginian voters would look down at my little brown girl, while talking politics, and perhaps think that Obama might not be so bad, after all. Of course, none of this was enough nor decisive nor influential, but I did what I could.
And now, here we are, Inauguration Day. Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States (five minutes late--in true, black fashion). I don't know what all that means. None of us will for years to come. Perhaps we'll never know. I do know that a lot of my views of my country have definitely been changed forever. I know watching all the pomp and circumstance on the television while Poohbutt plays innocently with her blocks, I keep finding myself choking up. I know for the first time watching one of these things, I really and truly feel proud to be an American.
Having seen Lester Holt and Michael Eric Dyson choke up after speaking on NBC, I know I am not alone in this. I keep smiling, I keep choking up, I keep crying and holding my daughter and kissing the hell out of her chubby, little cheeks. I can't help thinking that this is the greatest event I've ever witnessed, and I feel blessed to be sharing it with her. I'm so glad my parents are around to see this. I wish my grandparents were, my great-grandparents. I wish that every African who survived and died during the Middle Passages could see this, every black person who suffered and died these past 400 years of oppression and humiliation could sit down and take this all in.
If somehow they can, I wonder what they're thinking. I wonder if they feel the pride I do at this very moment. I wonder if their eyes are also filled with tears of joy and honor.
Poohbutt has no clue why I'm crying right now. And nothing makes me happier than knowing that she will never exactly understand why her father was crying on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. She'll never know why I'll so fervently keep preaching to her, "You can be whatever you want to be in this world." She'll never understand that, on this beautiful day, I could say those words and actually believe them--unlike all the black parents before me. And she'll never, ever, ever quite get her old man and his hearty laugh when she screws up her face and rolls her eyes, and huffs, "Yeah, yeah, Dad. First black President. Whatever."
God, how I love this day!
[Author's Note: This, ironically, is my 100th post on Tome. Thank you, everyone for supporting and sticking with me. I hope we can continue to share. Keep on keeping on!]