Yes We Can (Do What?)
The radio was running all day in the back of the shop so I was finally forced to keep up with America as the ballots were counted. McCain conceded early in the evening for those of us on the west coast, and an excited murmur crept from coworker to coworker, bursting into evident glee when Obama followed shortly after with his victory speech. I listened in rapt annoyance as his oration took the form of a Southern preacher, punctuating his points with “Yes We Can”, and I listened with something approaching anger as he threw the gays a bone before calling it a night. For the first time in my life I voted for a presidential candidate because as I stood in my plastic privacy booth I was gripped with fear; it turns out that my decision to mark Obama was hardly necessary and I will be forever irritated by that.
Don’t misunderstand me– I’m glad that he won as he was obviously better suited than McCain across the board but his left-of-center Democratic ideals don’t really reflect my own political inclinations. I felt alone amidst a sea of overwhelming glee as I finished my shift, then began to drown in the self-righteous celebrants crowding my walk home. As per usual I bought the only 16oz beer they sell at the nearest liquor store, Budweiser, and laughed to myself how it’s no longer American owned. Younger people were clustered on corners screaming Obama through their drunken stupor as cars, shiny and new, drove past honking. Everyone was certainly ecstatic, even the throngs of street kids, and the cheering back and forth across the street, the honking, the screams of “we did it”, made me feel like the Super Bowl had just ended. In a sense it did, the left-of-center middle-class or aspiring middle-class won the Super Bowl and their team will take over the White House and Congress in a couple months time. What they think that means I don’t know, what they think “we” did I can’t comprehend. Maybe they hung a poster in their window and maybe they sent $20 to the campaign and now they have the right to feel smug about doing something.
Two things confounded me about this recent election. I’ve never seen a candidate commodified like Obama has been. His face became the new Che, the new Andre the Giant. His slogans ran rampant through the indie-pop vernacular as gospel. There were bake sales, beer bashes, concerts and probably knit-offs all to support his ascension from nowhere to national spotlight. It trumps anything Howard Dean had managed before blowing a gasket with his rebel yell and I’m curious to see if any collection of image and ideals will ever be as galvanizing to a younger generation of voters again. He became JFK, a beacon of hope in dark times, and everyone wanted to buy a button and hop on board. I feel bad for him, actually, as he’s about to inherit some complex problems which have implications beyond imagination and his seat was secured by being sold as a messianic figure. He’ll face opposition from surviving conservatives in Congress and he’ll face opposition from lobbyists and he’ll face opposition from corporate control. The compromises will be hard, the disappointment will come and within two years I suspect that his inability to magically save the world will be rewarded with a flip in either the Senate or the House. Now that he’s been elected the t-shirt trick won’t work anymore.
The second puzzler was that Obama became a black candidate. Obviously, regardless of anyone’s denial, race was going to be a factor in the election but it was decided that he couldn’t run as a mixed person, he had to be black or white and since his skin is darker he became black. The poor guy was told that his upbringing, his family, his life was no longer his alone and that he was now (and now had always been) black. His parents were married at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in some states and that has no bearing on who is because now he’s simply black. No one seemed to mind that he was now going to be black, maybe it made it easier to sell the votes. My grandparents weren’t allowed to live in the neighborhood of their choice because of laws in California red-lining neighborhoods and I’ll be damned, white as I look, if I ever stand back and ignore my mixed heritage be compartmentalized for the potential client’s easy consumption.
Speaking of illegal marriages, by the time I got home California Proposition 8 was destined to pass. If you missed that one it’s a constitutional amendment to legally define marriage as taking place between a man and a woman. Proponents burrowed their hatred behind charges that gay marriage would bring anal sex talks up in Kindergarten (and their campaign was marred by various lawsuits pulling commercials containing outright lies) and that traditional marriage needs protection. Traditional marriage was recently old men and twelve year old girls being set up as a social contract. Traditional marriage is still a matter of arrangement and dowry in many places. Traditional marriage has nothing to do with love, honor or anything other than the steps necessary to pawn your daughter off to be someone else’s liability. This has slowly changed to suit the modern day but as divorce rates climb it’s pretty petty to say the institution of marriage is suffering because of the gays. Proposition 8 was about hate and in the liberal enclave of California, where Obama was a guaranteed win (that I freaked out about in the polling station), hate is alive and well.
After walking through the masses staggering around in their post election intoxication screaming, chanting Obama, and waving at honking cars I was in a pretty piss poor mood. The rich will be rich, the poor will be poor, the best interests of everyone will be sold for the best interests of some and the world will continue to be a fucked up place. Electing someone won’t change that and exercising the right to vote and than skipping away feeling happy about the results won’t change that either. It’s a dedicated process of people doing the right thing on a daily basis, always striving to improve the situation by improving themselves. I wonder how many Obama t-shirt wearing charity lemonade stand workers will continue to put effort into doing what they think is right when their man takes the White House in January. How many will even think about what the right thing might be as they drive their cars around honking in celebration? Statistics are suggesting that a lot of people only voted for president and ignored measures on the ballots; most people don’t put any time into so much as reading ballot measures prior to voting. Various propositions passed here that set any semblance of social progress back a step or three and it takes a lot to undue the damage wrought by ignorance and prejudice. Unfortunately the groundswell of popular support doesn’t translate into awareness beyond the packaged product. After the Christmas presents are opened the wrapping gets taken out to the trash and everyone forgets about it.
I was gonna call it a night, smoking my last half a cigarette on the roof, when my attention was drawn to the doorway a pizza joint across the street. A girl was trying to leave carrying a whole pie and a guy in the doorway grabbed her arm. She shook him off and kept walking away but he evidently said something because she rushed back in a flurry and shoved him. A second guy tried to grab her and by the time her pizza spilled out onto the sidewalk it had dawned on me that this wasn’t drunken revelry. Before I could process another though she was screaming fuck you and pepper-spraying them both. The first guy who had been in the doorway slumped down in pain but the second guy tried to follow as she walked away, screaming, “Come back here!” over and over again, weaker and weaker, until he realized he couldn’t make it across the street. As he slumped to the curb the pizza joint emptied out and a good dozen people ran into the street choking and coughing and yelling.
All I could do was laugh, but it was an honest laugh that could probably be heard a couple stories below and I couldn’t stop. It cleansed me of the bitterness which has settled in that night and left me feeling almost giddy. Now, I can’t swear that what preceded the pepper-spray justifies the use, although I would like to think that the girl was being harassed and put a stop to it. I even feel a little sympathy for the innocent by-standers, the guys working the kitchen and the other patrons, who streamed out of the restaurant afterwards. But deep down what made me happy is that a bunch of people out feeling smug about themselves for absolutely no reason, swooning to the cheers of “Yes We Can” echoing through their empty little heads, feeling their part in history is now complete were standing there hugging themselves and all of a sudden there’s someone screaming fuck you and their eyes and burning and their lungs are on fire and they’re running blindly outside gagging. Wake up motherfuckers. There’s still a world out there and if you don’t pay attention and you don’t do something about it than I hope you get what you deserve.