Facebook informed me that Barack Obama was coming to town. Well, not just coming to town, per se, but speaking literally half a block from my childhood home. Of course I was going to go. We're talking about me, the fifth-grader who wrote scathing editorials and posted them on the back of my classroom door (byline: "Anna Beach's Things That Need to Change"). Me, the high-school sophomore who wore anti-W buttons to school and indicted classmates for casting faux-votes for a candidate simply because that's who their parents supported. Me, who was offered a position as an organizer in Obama's re-election campaign and ended up turning it down because it was unpaid. Me, who, after turning down an unpaid position, took a yearlong vow of poverty as an Americorps VISTA.
I chose to go hear the president speak because I knew his words and his candor would inspire me. What I found, however, was what I always find when I enter a situation with a singular set of expectations; the world presents me with more. I turned on to Mound St, a street I have crossed since my infancy, and found a crush of people corralled and waiting in unseasonably warm weather. In the thirty minutes or so between my arrival and going through security, I witnessed a man with a Tuskeegee veterans cap on lie down on the grass overwhelmed by heat (he was later pronounced just fine and let in early), an adorable little girl playing with princess figurines on the curb, and a wan-looking twenty-something distributing religious tracts to the crowd. And perhaps because of the occasion, or because of fatigue, or simply because of my writer's need to catalogue and process, I was almost immediately inspired.
I imagined being a veteran and person of color, both roles which I can barely fathom, and braving age and all its circumstances to hear a man speak who must, on a very basic level, affirm that not all of one's struggles have been in vain. I was proud that a doctor ran right out of the crowd to offer help, that multiple onlookers offered bottled water and snacks, and that ultimately this man was escorted inside by the secret service. I remembered being a child and playing with barbies, and I was heartened to think, that, hey, this little girl is enjoying princesses, but she is also being taught that a woman can be a badass, ball-busting world leader. I glanced at the tract being handed out. It was decidedly weird, with a picture of The Beatles on the cover, and most of these papers were tossed to the ground as soon as people figured out what they were. I, however, thrive on the absurd and whimsical. I love when the world is weird and I love that we have a country that permits weirdness to exist legally.
Once inside, I began to write, because, I mean, none of us actually expected me to interact with strangers, right? Blame it on the tract, I guess, but I began thinking about the idea of salvation and damnation. How often it is that we think our salvation lies in another person. How the very hallmark of our modern political process is to convince a majority of voters that their salvation lies in the election of a particular candidate. How this is both true and untrue. Here's the thing: I know I am a changeable motherfucker, and the vast majority of the time, I will take full responsibility for that. I don't expect salvation from anyone, much less a political candidate. I also reject the idea that just because I can take responsibility for myself means that I can declare myself saved and say to everyone else, "Fuck you. You're damned." I believe in the Christian tenet of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. I believe in offering salvation (whatever that means or looks like to you) to others even when you are drowning in your own uncertainty. I believe in voting for the person who is humble enough to say "I fucked up. I am imperfect. But I'm here to show you love in the only way I know how." I'm with her.
I stood inside of the field house at Capital University for three hours waiting to hear Barack Obama speak. I wrote for twenty minutes tops. I was hot from standing in the sun, thirsty but unwilling to give up my space, tired from having worked on little sleep. The truth is, there are very few times I have subjected myself to being in such close proximity with so many people. The odd crowded bar in college, maybe, and a carriage in the tube during London rush hour come to mind. These are all fairly unpleasant experiences, with some amount of body odor and a fair amount of discomfort. Always, though, the resultant forced contact with other humans is exhilarating, because it reminds me of what we all have in common. We all smell sometimes. We all grow impatient after hours of waiting. We all worry about our phones running out of battery before we snap the perfect picture. We are all drawn to the message of hope that Obama has worked very hard to cultivate. We mustn't stop hoping that better days can be found for ALL of us, not just those of us we like. I'm with her.
Standing in a crowd, trying to keep my knees from buckling and growing weary, I thought how in this very situation, one witnesses the varied parts of the self. There were people surrounding me, I am sure of it, who represented parts of myself I have left behind (awkward college kids) and parts of myself I have yet to discover (annoying mom). I was trapped among them, and my only option was to try and cultivate compassion for them, rather than mentally expound upon why they were driving me nuts. My hope for everyone I meet, even those I hate, is that they will have the freedom to discover themselves, one by one. I cannot vote for a man whose entire ethos is based on exclusion and hatred. I'm with her.
Barack Obama is a magnetic public speaker. You already know this. You can look up the video of his speech, and clips of it are probably already streaming on CNN. His words, his very presence, inspired me to remember what I love about this country. He inspired me to fight for what I believe in. Before he spoke, I wrote down the sentence, "Our country is not a fight you get to throw up your hands at and walk away from." Look, we're all done with the electoral bullshit that goes on in this country. Every time I see Donald Trump's sphincter face, I want nothing more than to run away to England. But I don't get to run away, and neither do you. We all have to live with the results on election day. I implore you to vote for Hlllary Clinton because I truly believe she will try her best to represent all of us. I know some of you don't like her; I voted for Bernie in the primary, too. Here's the thing, though. If Trump wins by a margin of votes that went to Johnson or Stein that could have gone to Hillary, I don't give a shit about what morals led you to vote third-party, because they're all going to be irrelevant. I cannot live in a country where anyone's morals, even those I do not agree with or show disdain for, become irrelevant. I'm with her.