When they told us that we might be able to get our copies of The Audacity of Hope signed at a rally in Dallas in late 2007, we knew that there were a host of long shots involved. We all piled up our books with sticky notes inside them with our names, and then went on to do the work of the volunteer: Hand out stuff. Talk to people. Pretty much all the things I hated to do because, as outgoing as I seem, I do not enjoy foisting myself on the general public. I was committed to getting him elected, even if he didn’t have a chance.
We stood in a large room at Gilley’s and listened to him speak. I remember it was a weird time, early, like 5 or 6 pm on a weekday. The room was packed, his mic wasn’t that good, and the crowd was energetic. A few minutes before he was finished speaking, the volunteers were told to go out in the hall to anticipate the crowd as they left, to hand out flyers regarding when and where to vote, and how to encourage others to do so during the primary. All of a sudden, a very stern-looking, diminutive but strong woman in a navy suit and short heels was headed straight for me. It was hard to miss the fact that she was wearing a gun and an earpiece. She said, “We need all the volunteers out here to line up! He wants to say hello.” And we did. Quickly. Before I had a chance to figure out what I was going to say, he was standing in front of me, holding out his hand for me to shake it, and he pointedly said, “And what is your name?” I barely got it out. It was a moment I will never forget. We left with our books, each signed.
The night of the election in 2008, my husband and I went with a group of friends down to Bishop Arts where they had the streets blocked off and big screens in several locations to watch the returns. I remember almost sinking to the pavement when they called it for him. I had been an election judge for the primary. I had never worked so hard for anything in my life. I had risked my job by standing up to a boss who deemed Obama a Muslim terrorist openly and publicly. My husband lost his job because he took a day off to work the primary with me. I remember standing in a burger joint that night in Bishop Arts, tears streaming down my face, while watching him speak in Grant Park after the election results.
There is nothing I can write about President Obama that hasn’t already been written. He had ups. He had downs. I spent the first few years hoping that he would not get shot. He was not perfect. He could not accomplish everything he wanted to do. He had a hand in some things that were not good. Despite it all, I was proud on the whole to have a very intellectual and thoughtful person in the highest office in the land. I was proud that I had an incredibly small role in getting him there.
Given what we are facing tomorrow, I am – if nothing else – amazed and honored that I was alive to see the first African-American President of the United States serve this country in the best way he could for eight years. I will miss him. I will not watch the inauguration of an ill-educated, misogynistic, racist businessman. I will set my thoughts to a higher purpose. I will attend a Women’s March the next day.
I am unsure about where we are headed as a nation – the progress we have made in the last eight years seems vast. Can it all be undone? What I know is this: There are those of us out here who are ready to fight, march, vote, and speak truth to power. We will not let go of the idea that progress is something only we can forge. That regression is not an option. That this country, for all it’s failed experiments, is still ours to try to make succeed.
We are many.