Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

I am still coming off the incredulity, the euphoria, the release of months of extreme anxiety after last night's amazing landslide. I have never gotten involved in a presidential campaign, and despite my best efforts to retain my critical faculties, I drank the Kool-Aid for Barack Obama, projecting my infinite often inchoate desires onto his charismatic figure. But last night was not a night for questions about the future, it was a night for celebrating democracy, civic engagement, solidarity, freedom, hope, and change, as this country stands at the terrifying edge of a precipice. As a colonial subject of this country, half Puerto Rican, half Spanish, of ambiguous racial and class makeup, carrying the baggage of various exiles, physical and personal, I have never felt fully vested in this country as a citizen, nor fully accepted as an "American," whatever that means.

I decided to risk it anyway, and fight for freedom as this country careened into extreme right wing positions that created a police state, suppression of privacy, freedom of speech, and the balance of power between the branches of government, all based on a climate of fear that was used to justify exceptionalism any time concerns were voiced by citizens. Having lived in a right wing police state, and experienced state and guerrilla terrorism, the idea that citizens' freedoms should be curtailed based on exceptions to the rule of law seemed a perversion of everything this country has stood for and a dangerous capitulation to our enemies. 

Last night, as my neighbors celebrated in the streets, playing percussion, dancing, jumping, screaming, hollering, calling out, embracing, smiling, I realized that I had not seen citizens take to the streets spontaneously to express political sentiment since before 9/11. The political protests to protect the rights of women, gays, lesbians and bisexuals, workers, people with AIDS, or to protest war that I have attended over the years, were recently no longer viable in the same ways, subject as we are now to surveillance and limitations on the right to assembly. Last night, although local police were on hand to direct traffic, mostly cut off by the jubilant crowds, I did not feel the tension or antagonism that I had seen of late.  

As I volunteered for Obama, I met people I never would have come into contact with, saw indescribably appalling conditions that could be described as "third world" in the middle of Philadelphia, birthplace of freedom. People completely disenfranchised from the system, who'd experienced voter intimidation, whose concerns were largely absent from much of the campaign rhetoric, focused as it was on the "middle class." Yet they felt hope and registered to vote with us, teaching me a lesson about perseverance and bravery. I hope that the spirit of solidarity and willingness to serve will be harnessed by Obama to motivate the grass roots cadres created by his campaign to work in their communities, as I intend to do, ashamed of my own complacency, comfort, and cynicism. 

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