It’s over—and thank God it turned out right! Steve and I were poll watchers on Tuesday, and it was wonderful to drive past other polling sites before the 6 a.m. opening time, still dark as night, and see the lines of people snaked around the buildings, waiting to vote. There was more than an hour wait at our site, until things finally slowed down around nine o’clock. Then there was a steady stream all day. No line before closing, at six, which was kind of a surprise. But it turned out to be a pattern. People voted in the morning to be sure they could. It was a beautiful day, in the seventies, so mostly we just sat in the sun and chatted with an African-American woman, Holly, who was handing out sample ballots for the Democratic Party, and Elaine, a North Central teacher, handing out flyers for the candidates the state teacher organization supported. A lot of very elderly people voted—many looked likely to be Republicans. (One frail lady in a pink and green plaid blazer actually pushed Elaine when she tried to give her the flyers and said, “I don’t want welfare!” (What do you think the fucking bank bailout is, I wanted to ask.) But a fair number of African Americans voted, too—young, middle-aged, old.
I loved watching the returns, shots of the crowd growing in Grant Park. Every kind of person! I loved watching their faces when the race was called. People laughed, cried, danced, screamed. Some just stood there, looking stunned. His speech was brilliant, so real. So not in-your-face, like W’s of four years ago—and he could have legitimately done an in-your-face speech if he’d wanted to. It was a landslide! Steve cried, listening. “This is better than a Rocky movie,” he said a little sheepishly. My daughter Kate cried so much that she alarmed her eight-year-old daughter. “Mom, what’s wrong?” Heidi asked. Kate said the only thing she could think of that might make her understand, “When I was little, black kids weren’t allowed to go to the Rivi.” (Our swim club.) “What?” Heidi asked, aghast.
I was mainly relieved. I felt like I could breathe deeply again. I was so afraid he wouldn’t win, that we’d be looking at a future with another four years of old politics—or worse. I know Obama can’t fix everything, maybe there are some things he can’t fix at all. But I believe he can change what needs changed most—and that is the tone of government. He brings integrity, intelligence, real compassion and genuine curiosity about and respect for differing points of view to the White House, traits I think are necessary to create the kind of change we must have if we are to survive.
Maybe the best part of these few days after the election is that there seems to be something new in the air. Black people seem friendlier, especially if you mention Obama. They seem to be standing taller, taking up more space, proud that Obama is their own. It’s really beautiful to see.
So, bravo to us for electing this extraordinary man. Especially my own state, Indiana, for the extremely unlikely accomplishment of going blue for the first time in more than forty years.