Nov 5: The Dawn of a New Day: Elation, Exhaustion, and a lot of Paperwork

I've been avoiding this blog all day, mostly because I haven't wanted to make the shift from feeling to thinking just quite yet. I think I'm in a bit of shock. The buildup to this moment lasted so long, and became so intense, that I'm left dazed by the suddenness of last night's results.
Yesterday was like four days in one. We started at 6am, which meant four hours of sleep for me, and less than two for Travis. There was no way to really prepare for Election Day; when we got to 2am the night before, I started crying over my paperwork. In retrospect it's pretty funny-I thought I was coming out here to massage his shoulders and makes runs for coffee, and he handed me responsibility for running more than a third of the office's paid staff in getting out Obama votes from 13 precincts across the city.
I'm glad he did, otherwise I never would have imagined I could be part of something this massive and this important. Apparently, our office contacted more people than any other office in this region of Colorado. We knew Pueblo was a key region in a crucial swing state, and the pressure to come through felt pretty intense.
And yet, it all happened on such an intimate scale. I think some of the images and moments that are with me now will stay with me for a long time. There was the 16-year-old girl I took out for her first day canvassing who was so passionate about lowering the voting age ("What happens in this country affects me just as much as any voter," she said,) and the young man with forearms scarred from slash marks who'd grown up in foster care who told me this was the most meaningful work he'd ever done.
I won't soon forget the conversations I had with voters yesterday, when I finally got a chance to get out and canvass, and spent four hours running door-to-door in order to make the best use of the last few hours before the polls closed. With so little time left, I stuck to known Obama supporters who had indicated that they planned to vote on the 4th. By the time I got to their doors, some of them had voted already. Others pledged to go within the hour. When people weren't home, I left a personal note asking them to get to their polling place and vote, and then call me on my cell phone to let me know. Around 6pm, the calls started rolling in. "Hi, this is Raymond, I voted!" "Hi Elizabeth, this is Dawn calling just to let you know I did it!"
And then there was the couple that answered the door of their shabby apartment in a complex adjacent to a gas station. She was overweight with eyes that wouldn't quite focus; he lurked behind her, stooped and very thin. "Have you had a chance to vote yet?" I asked them. "Aww honey, I voted already, but my husband, he doesn't feel too good," she told me. "I don't know if he wants to go down there." Their polling place was an elementary school two blocks away. I peeked past her and waved to him, and he came forward, coughing. "You have until 7pm to get to your polling place," I told him. "This is such an important election, and you can really make a difference. Do you need a ride?" "Nah," he said. "I guess maybe I can get down there later." We agreed that he would make it to the polls by 5pm, and I'd call around 6pm to confirm that he'd voted. When I called, nobody answered, and something told me to go back and check on them. She answered the door again. "Aww honey," she said, "He was on his way to the polls when he fell down, and he had to go to the emergency room. He never made it." Her eyes were watery, and focused on something in the air past my head. I reached out and touched her arm, and she opened her arms for a hug, so we stood there embracing in the doorway of her apartment, surrounded by the smell of gasoline and cigarette smoke and the whine of traffic.
She called me later to give me an update. "He has a mild case of pneumonia," she said. "The doctor wanted him to stay but he wanted to come home, so he's here now." I think when I get home I'll send them a postcard from California; I copied their address from my walk list. Hopefully that's not illegal. I want to thank them for honoring their commitment to me to get out and vote, and I want to tell them that under Obama, they'll have better health insurance.
I feel like there are many more stories from yesterday, but I can't remember them all right now. We ended up in a sports bar around the corner from the office with about 20 of our canvassers, drinking $5 pitchers of Miller, eating nachos, and watching the results roll in. I cried a few times, especially to hear Obama announce that my generation had rejected 'the myth of our apathy,' and to hear him invoke the American spirit of service that has seemed, in recent years, like a distant collective memory, or even a dream. Like the giddiness at the beginning of a new relationship, this feels at once surreal and deeply familiar. Of course this is only the beginning. Of course the future is full of challenges-some of the greatest ones this country has ever seen. Aside from the war and the economic and environmental crises we're facing, I'm particularly heart-broken today about the passing of Proposition 8 in California, and the ongoing human rights battle surrounding sexual orientation. But with the election of Obama, and what that says about the will of the people of this nation, I am more optimistic and more joyful about the future of American than I have ever been in my adult life.
I wish my father had lived to see this day. But since I can't have that, I'm glad to think that if I have children, they'll know an America where we organize ourselves around service and community, where we respect one another despite our differences, where we take responsibility for our actions, where we commit to solving problems, where we communicate honestly, and where we commit to taking on great challenges even if we don't know how we'll ever succeed. For me, this election means all of that, not because of Barack Obama himself so much-though he does dazzle me-but because of what his election says about the priorities of American people.
The office still smells a little like sewage, and it's strewn with half-finished paperwork that has to be entered into databases and shredded before we can move on. And so the mundane duties of life go on, but right now it feels like the world has changed, fundamentally, for the better.

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