In the late summer of 2004, when our hopes were still high a democrat might take the White House in November, my friend Maggie and I were exchanging emails about politics. Maggie is one smart cat, and in those days I turned to her to explain different things to me. I've always thought she somehow has an "in" with the world at large, that she has her finger on the pulse of history as it happens, and sometimes, she just might be able to tell the future. (She is one of my most favorite friends.)
One of her emails in this exchange said something like: "Did you hear this guy Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention? If not, google him and try to find that speech. That guy's going to be president someday."
I don't need to tell you that I googled him, but what I do want to tell you is at that time, I was only able to find the transcript of his speech. I read it, not having ever seen his face, not having ever heard his voice, and emotion welled up in me. Who the hell is this guy, and how dare he give me so much hope?? I couldn't wait for the day for him to announce he'd be running for president.
When Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for 2008, I was elated, but one of the first things I remember telling people is, "I hope Barack Obama doesn't run this year, because she will never beat him." It's not that I didn't want Barack Obama to be the president - it's that I sort of wanted Hillary more. However, when I went into the booth on Super Tuesday of this year to pick my democratic candidate, I felt as though I was choosing between an ice cream sundae and a red velvet cupcake. Both choices were so equally appealing to me, I didn't know how I could possibly be asked to choose. After a lot of thought, and a very compelling article in the New Yorker, I chose Hillary.
Admittedly, I also weighed heavily - who would America vote for? A white woman or a black man? I figured it would be the former.
(It should also be noted that around primary season, when John McCain emerged as the Republican frontrunner, and it was still a tossup between Hillary and Barack, I was feeling pretty good about the election overall - I liked John McCain, and I loved the Democratic candidates. Images of an election whose outcome would be great either way danced in my head. Ah, those were the days...)
Needless to say, when Hillary conceded, I jumped on the Obama train without hesitating, and screamed from the proverbial rooftops about how great this young, "inexperienced genius" was and would be for our country.
Right before it was clear Obama would be the candidate, the California Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by one of its conservative Republican judges, ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same sex Californians marriage licenses. Suddenly, we had a black man running for president and gay marriage was legal in California! Could life get any better? Were the founders right? Were we really all created equal? Even the blacks and the gays?! I love it here!!
This week has come with a whirlwind of emotions for me. I can't quite describe the feeling inside of me at 8:00 PST, when it was announced that not only did Barack Obama become the 44th President of the United States, but he did so overwhelmingly, with a ridiculously huge margin of the electoral vote. (He could have even done it without Ohio, but Ohio pulled through for us!) I was humbled, inspired, grateful, hopeful. I watched his speech with goosebumps all over me and tears in my eyes. I had this quieting sense that the easy part was over, and now this man had the most important job in the whole world, not only of leading us, but of reclaiming America's place in the world. I clung to his words, and admired him for being cautiously optimistic, not reveling in victory but reminding us of the task at hand. I have always been proud of Americans, but I have not been proud of America for a long time. It felt good to be proud of my country once more. I was even proud of John McCain once again, whose concession speech was arguably the most important speech of his career. That night, it was obviously not lost on me how monumental it was to see a black family take the stage as our First Family, and I was flooded with pride at our continuing ability to come together and celebrate our diversity, and to show our children that anything is possible, and that while we still have a long way to go, we are well on our way to being the country we should be.
Of course, in the days since then, Californians (and the rest of the country, it seems) learned that Proposition 8 passed, by a very narrow margin. I marveled at how we could defeat a proposition that called for limits on abortions for underage girls (I am glad this was defeated, I voted no on it), and we could pass a proposition giving chickens and pigs more room to stretch their legs (again, I voted for this as well), and we could SOUNDLY deliver California for Barack Obama, but we could not defeat a proposition that aimed to write discrimination into our state constitution, something that, to my knowledge, has never been done in the history of California. How did this happen? The Mormon church is partly to blame. The Mormon church, who enjoys tax exempt status, donated 70 percent of the funds to pass this proposition. (The gay community needs to share some of the blame, but I'll save that for another post.)
I am devastated by this. For the first time ever, I am ashamed of California. I am disgusted. I am embarrassed of this state I have come to call home. If you are reading this and you voted "yes" on prop 8, shame on you. You took away my rights as an equal citizen. You have essentially told me I'm not as good as you, that I should be required to follow the same rules as you, pay the same taxes as you, but not have the same benefits as you, not reap the same rewards as you. You have told me with a resounding voice that I am less than you. Well you know what? Fuck you. FUCK YOU. I deserve everything you have, and MORE, because I believe in equality for all. I believe we shouldn't deny law abiding citizens their rights. I believe we were ALL created equal, just like the United States Constitution says, just like the Declaration of Independence says. I am an American. How DARE you try to take away MY rights? This is not over. I am damn SICK of crying over this. I'm sick of feeling like a second-class citizen. I'm done with that. My fury is rising, and you better watch out. You thought we would go away quietly? Nope. Not anymore.
I realize this post is getting really long, but I do have a point to make.
My friend Wendy called me after the election to ask how I was feeling. She asked me about prop 8 - "are you depressed?" The answer is no. I'm not depressed. Barack Obama is good for America. Barack Obama will change not only my life, but my mom's life and my dad's life, and in the near future. While I also think marriage equality is good for America, I believe so in a much more indirect way. And I know we will get there. It took just 40 years from the Civil Rights movement to elect a black president. It was 40 long years, but that's only half a lifetime. We will get there. Marriage equality will be a federal issue some day. In the meantime, I am overwhelmingly excited about our next president, and about the choice America has made. Straight people have already taken so much away from me this week - they're not going to take Barack's victory away from me too.
Yes we can, yes we did, and YES WE WILL.