Twelve years ago, I sat in the living room of our next-door neighbors’ home, surrounded by friends, and openly wept as the United States elected its first Black President. That I, a woman bred, born, and raised in the segregated South, should have lived to see such a wondrous day, was almost too much to take in.
I had donated money, made phone calls, and pounded pavement in support of Barack Obama’s campaign, something I hadn’t done since 1960. As a 13-year-old, I had proudly stood on busy street corners with my mom entreating those passing by to vote for John F. Kennedy. Then, as in 2008, my imagination had been captured by what could be, what was possible, with a young, charismatic President in the White House. Then, as in 2008, my candidate won. But then, in 1960, I don’t recall shedding tears, but being happy and thankful. In 2008, my tears were of joy, of hope, of relief – and a smidgen of fear for what might happen to this young man. A Black family in the White House was sure to bring out the worst in some people, so I prayed continually for his safety and for a successful administration.
As we all know, Obama was re-elected to a second term in 2012, and, as with most presidents, his administration was a mix of successes and failures. Never, however, did I feel that he was working in bad faith. He was a man who cared about our country and worked – often against blatant obstructionists – to move us forward.
In 2016, I was originally a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. Deep down, I didn’t really think he could win, but I liked most of his ideas and felt that, even though a lot of them would never make it through Congress, he would move us in the right direction. I was disappointed and angry when the DNC put the full force of their money and power behind Hillary Clinton; however, she would be the one I would support. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that my country would elect Donald Trump. He was an obvious opportunist, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe. Surely we would continue to move forward and not revert to our shameful past. We’d come so far and we were so much better than that, weren’t we? Obviously not.
As the returns came in and it became obvious that I share this nation with people who were still living in the mid-20th Century, people who cared nothing for progress, or their neighbors, even people in their families, I was too stunned to cry. I was numb. I was angry. I was disbelieving. Surely there was an error somewhere. It wasn’t until two days later, as I lay on a bed at my chiropractor, that the bottled up feelings were finally freed. Once again – though for a far different reason this time – I cried openly. After that welcome release, a righteous anger overtook me and I vowed that I would protest this misbegotten administration at every turn. My first act was to join The Women’s March in Washington DC – you can read about it here. I took to Twitter and Facebook with a vengeance. I wrote emails and letters to Congress. I spoke out against him at every opportunity. I even joined the Portland Raging Grannies when Trump refused to condemn white supremacists in the wake of the murders of BIPOC by police officers, and in support of Black Lives Matter.
And as we entered the 2020 presidential campaign, I supported Elizabeth Warren. I still liked Bernie, but felt more drawn to Warren’s ideas and her passion. Besides, it’s past time for this country to elect a woman, and Liz was my choice. But once again, my candidate appeared to be too far out of the mainstream and the DNC selected Joe Biden. I’ve never been a big fan of Biden, frankly. Oh, he’s fine as a person, and is certainly the antithesis of Trump, but he just didn’t seem like he’d be as progressive as I’d like.
As we moved through the campaign, I worried.
As election day approached, I worried.
As returns started coming in, I worried.
When it started looking like a repeat of 2016, I went to bed, too stressed to even watch. When I woke up Wednesday morning, things were looking up. And as I stayed glued to CNN over the next several days, it started looking better and better, though still a nail-biter.
Finally – Finally! – Biden was declared President-elect, and I began to breathe more easily. Deep, cleansing, healing breaths. No tears this time, and no joy, either; just relief. Peace.
Last night, though. Saturday evening, as I sat prepared to hear Biden’s acceptance speech, Sen. Kamala Harris spoke first. Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. And as she spoke, as she invoked the memory of her mother, of all the women who had gone before, preparing the way, as she spoke of the little girls watching, knowing that they could aspire to be anything, anything at all…
Well, I began to cry.