This past Saturday morning, I was scheduled to give a presentation on Zoom for the Debutante program at my church. I had been asked to give this talk months ago and honestly had not settled on what I would say until the last minute (as in Wednesday, after the election, in the car on my way back from Philadelphia). Initially, I had this grand idea that I would finally pull together thee comprehensive voting rights Power Point with pictures and voice-over and all kinds of other bells and whistles. But given the amount of time needed to pull that together, my packing anxieties, and all of the other things going on in my life, I decided to just speak from my heart about what inspired me to vote.
The morning of the presentation, we were in a hotel room in Queens because we were scheduled to attend a family function immediately afterward. I had to get myself ready, and the Kid, pack up most of our stuff, and make sure that the room looked presentable. And I had less than an hour to do all of that and beat a full face because y'all know how serious that has become these days! With seconds to spare, I logged on and began my talk. Around 11am, my phone began to blow up with successive text messages. I took a quick peek, but continued on with my presentation. We did take a moment at the end to acknowledge the significance of the news and I think the young ladies were still awake. But as Busy Black Saturdays go, I had no time to really sit to process the news as I had to switch back to Mommy mode in order for us to make our family gathering on time.
But as the Debutante Program Facilitator said, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing at that very moment. I was sharing my vote story with some young ladies whom I hope will remember that day as the inspiration that helped to shape their voting stories.
Later that day, we were celebrating with family. We got to meet our Great Baby Niece for the first time and the Kid got to spend time with her cousins. I have had the pleasure to watch all of these young people grow up, so it was quite the treat to watch Zuri interact with them. I thought about the successive changes in the country since the youngest of these cousins (12 years older than my daughter) was born in the aftermath of 9/11. I thought about how these young people were either very young kids or teenagers when Barack Obama was elected, and how in their lifetime, they witnessed the election of the first Black President, the first Black and Asian Vice President, and if things had been different four years ago, the first woman President (no worries, we've got time).
Perhaps that is only significant to us because our family is very diverse, very New York in that respect. We represent several Latinx nationalities (primarily Puerto Rican), African American, West Indian, Eastern European, Greek, and Chinese American. And that is just the Hub's side of the aisle (my immediate family is African American and Puerto Rican). I know that delineating these identities makes some people uncomfortable as they would rather that we just call ourselves American, which is exactly what we are and why identity is so significant in this context. We are the melting pot/mixed salad metaphor that people claim America to be. We are rice and beans, corn bread and collard greens, roasted lamb, empanadas/beef patties/dumplings, ginger beer, coquito, and penne pasta (because this family cannot get together and not eat Italian food) at Thanksgiving dinner. We are descendants of the enslaved, the colonizers, the immigrants, and the Indigenous people that are all apart of the American story.
So when I think about the significance of Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 11am when the election was called; when my phone began buzzing non-stop for ten minutes; when I was telling my personal voting story to a few young ladies; when my daughter was somewhere in a park blithely playing with her Papi; when my nieces and nephews were deciding what to wear; and when my precious Great Baby Niece was being prepared for her christening (because that side of the family is also Catholic)...I am finally able to stop to take it all in.
That night, we were about 20 miles outside of Wilmington, DE when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their acceptance speeches. We wanted to drive through, but we had to stop to change clothes and drivers, get gas and coffee, so by the time we made it back on the road, everything was over. Although I have not gone back to listen to Biden's speech in full, I know that he quoted one of my favorite Catholic hymns, On Eagle's Wings. I heard the most relevant part of Harris' speech, which were her inspiring words to my daughter, my nieces, and my Great Baby Niece. Now that we are several days in, we really don't care why the lame duck DESPOTUS is firing folks from his Cabinet or why his followers are floating conspiracy theories about the Arizona vote count, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Our four-year long national nightmare is almost over.
I won't speculate what could happen in 2024. I will relish what is happening now. I will think back to that glorious night in November 2008 when I was in another hotel room watching election returns. An energetic young family took to the stage, followed by the man who will now lead our country through its next great series of challenges. I can't say whether Joe Biden is the next one we have been waiting for nor will I put that burden on Kamala Harris just yet. But I will say that this song and scene from one of my all-time favorite movies hits a lot different now:
There are 70+ million people who were hoping for a different result. I know that they are watching our celebrations with intense resentment. I bet the plans are already underway to undermine everything this new Administration proposes to undo--what some regard as near-fatal and irreparable harm caused by the DESPOTUS. The GOP Senate leaders have already said as much in admonishing us to be more sensitive to their hurt feelings. And in my one petty post for today, here is my response:
I am happy for Uncle Joe because clearly, three is the magic number. There is a sermon in his persistence that we will come to appreciate one day, because this man accomplished what other perennial candidates such as Eugene V. Debs, David Duke, Alan Keyes, Lyndon LaRouche, and Ralph Nader did not. And the answer is not that he won--it is that he convinced us to take his candidacy seriously enough to put him in a position to win. After four years of the Trumpacolypse, we need someone who understands and respects government enough to put things back on track. I know that there are many who believe our political system is corrupt and broken, and a look at the amount of money that it took to oust the single greatest threat to America other than this coronavirus pandemic does lend some credence to that belief.
We trust Biden, and that extends to his soon-to-be Vice President. I need to draw the contrast here between the selection of Kamala Harris in 2020 and Sarah Palin in 2008, because many of the party-switchers then cited their lack of confidence in Palin as part of their reason for backing Obama over John McCain. I am sure that there were some who faced a similar dilemma this time, because of Biden's advanced age. And it should be noted that in 2008, his age and experience were assets. This time, Harris' youth and experience provide the same assurance, just in reverse. Palin had relevant experience and certainly had the youth, but she was not perceived as smart enough for the job...which seems totally ironic given the last four years. So in hindsight, I would definitely argue that sexism worked against her, which is why we need to accept at the outset that elevating Harris to the Presidency will be even harder than ousting the current Occupant. Because:
We are so giddy now because we know that this is just as seismic as 2008. It is just as inspiring. Four years ago when it seemed inevitable that we would elect Hillary Clinton, I don't think we were this enthusiastic. Even now, our joy is tempered lest one of these frivolous trump lawsuits decreases the vote count. Some of the mobs have threatened violence, such is their fealty to the Troll King. However, the prospect of change has already generated some of the same global accolades that made Obama such an international rock star. And the world has changed a great deal with 29 countries led by women. Yet, we need to anticipate that this election will garner the same intense backlash as 2008. Once we get past the hysteria, those who attempt "reasoned opposition" against systemic racism and sexism will claim that holding Harris to a higher standard is proof of their evolution--they don't see race or gender, they just see and hear an insufferable bitch...but that's okay.
Since I have alluded to it, I will share some bits from my voting story presentation, which perhaps may inspire some young person reading this blog years from now. I had grown up on the stories and seen the black and white photos of civil rights marchers and protestors being beaten. I knew about Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis. I knew that my Dad had participated in the movement in Mississippi. I was in college the first time I voted, and Sister President had demanded our participation in the process, either as registered Georgia voters, or as absentee voters in our home states. I had grown up immersed in local DC politics (Marion Barry, Mayor for Life) and observing federal politics. What cemented my desire to vote in every election and ultimately work as a voting rights advocate was the South African election in 1994. I saw color photos of miles long lines of Black voters, young and old, voting for Nelson Mandela. That was the first time Blacks could participate in the political process in a country where they were the majority, and they elected their first Black President. I have never taken the right to vote for granted since.
Therefore, for my Daughter and your Daughters (and our Sons), I will fight voter suppression. I will do my little part to keep voters informed of their rights. I will remain engaged in the process. For our children, I look upon the election of Joe Biden as a new beginning for this country. These last four years, a cruel, merciless Pharoah occupied a position of great power, which he abused at every opportunity to trample on the weak and vulnerable. It went beyond mere policy differences. Therefore, my hope is that the Biden-Harris Administration will represent the limitless possibilities of every man, every woman, every child. Children will look up to our President, a man like a modern David, flawed but wise. They will see Vice President Harris and will understand that America is a nation of immigrants--welcome from every country, every island, and from every caste.
E pluribus unum.