On November 4th, 2008 I took the day off from work, strapped my 4 year old daughter into her car seat and drove our minivan to the Obama campaign’s North Philadelphia headquarters. There I was handed a list of people who needed rides to go cast their vote for president. We made five trips that day, carrying about 20 people.
It was mostly old black ladies who gushed with gratitude and beamed with pride. Two of the ladies commented on how strange the neighborhood looked, they hadn’t left the house in years.
No one in the long lines complained as I wheeled a lady in a wheelchair past them to the front of the line.
I followed one address down a trash strewn street, up to a corner being patrolled by the usual crowd of young men in hoodies and white tees. As I pulled up, one of the guys in cornrows and saggy pants, punches a buddy in the shoulder, throws up a deuce to the others, and hops in my car. He smiled, shook my hand, and said, “I haven’t done this in a long time. Could you kinda show me how the voting machine works?” I left that act of helpfulness to a poll worker. When I gave the guy a ride home he had no problem letting me drop him off right in front of his crew, as opposed to “around the corner” like an embarrassed teenager.
Looking back 8 years later, that day still holds all of its power and meaning. There was such a positive spirit of hope and cooperation that no long line or inconvenience could bring us down. It was a day full of meaningful acts. It was like seeing a world monument, the Eiffel tower or Mount Rushmore in person for the first time. It was the sort of thing you read about in books, but now confront in real life. It felt like that. We knew, in the moment, in real time, that this was that sort of day. The sort people would read about for years to come. It felt great.
It still does.
On this coming Tuesday I will go to the polls and vote. Though this election could be remarkable in similar ways, it doesn’t feel anywhere the same. I didn’t go knock on anyone’s door this go round, or volunteer my time. Perhaps it is my latent misogyny, or some sort of patriarchal bias. Maybe. I’ve tried to dig pretty deep to see if that is what it is. Perhaps. But I think it is more than just that. While that event was so uplifting, this one is packed with pure anxiety. Apprehension. Fear. I would wager everything I own, that every one of those people I drove 8 years ago, would do it all exactly the same again today. Nothing, not one thing, in my rear view mirror looking back takes even the slightest bit of shine off that day.
Maybe it is because I no longer have a mini van. More likely, it is because there isn’t a current equivalent of this song.