For me, it started back in December 2006 when I heard Senator Barack Obama speak at the Saddleback Church AIDS Forum. What impressed me on that day, and what has continued to both impress and inspire me about now President Obama, was his willingness to present what he believed, admit that it differed from the beliefs of many gathered at that event (specifically around issues of abortion) and yet acknowledge that there was a vast area of agreement upon which we could all work together. I was impressed by his candor, his forthrightness, and his ability to call upon something that went deeper than the typical left/right debate.
Fast forward to January of last year. I was talking with a friend who mentioned that he was volunteering for the Barack Obama campaign. It was during that conversation that I realized it. If I care this much about this man becoming President, then maybe I ought to do something about it. Though it might seem like an obvious realization, the thought was a surprising one. Oh yeah, I guess you’re right. I do care. I ought to do something. Hmmm. Interesting. I’d never done anything like that before. I’d never cared before.
Sure, there was the quarter in Washington DC program while I was in college. I worked for the White House. Yep, I was a White House intern. Before it was scandalous. It was the term of George HW Bush, at that time just called George Bush, as there was no need to distinguish him from anyone else. I had applied to work at the White House, not because of any ideological affinity, but because I figured it would be a cool place to work. In fact, on my application form, one of the questions asked for three policies of the president, and whether I agreed or disagreed with them.
Truth be told, I knew about zero policies of the president, so I went to work scouring the newspaper (this was 1992, pre-Google) to find three policies and decide what I thought about them. I came up with two (which I cannot remember) but couldn’t seem to find a third. Then I remembered that the president did not like broccoli, and, for some reason, it had become quite a public dislike. So, broccoli it was. I disagreed. Seemed to me that the President of the United States publicly not eating his broccoli was a bad example for kids across the nation. “Eat your broccoli,” their moms would say. “Why do I have to? The President doesn’t” seemed like a pretty airtight defense.
So I worked in the White House, as an intern, technically in the Old Executive Office Building. It was exciting. I loved it. But even still, it was not an ideological decision. It was just cool to be in someplace so historical and so central.
Cut back to January 2008. I care; I guess I’m going to have to do something about it. So I did. I became a precinct captain for my neighborhood, going door to door, talking about Barack Obama. That’s quite a steep climb from “I guess I should do something” to “Hi, my name is Erin, have you considered voting for Barack Obama?”
The California primaries came and went. I was glad to have been a part of the campaign, but I figured my part was done now. Until I happened to be going to Texas the weekend before the primaries and caucuses there. “Well, I guess if I’m going to be in Texas for the weekend I should probably extend my trip and stay for the primaries.” So, that is how I happened to be going door to door in North Dallas a few weeks later saying, “Hi, my name’s Erin and I came here from California to ask you, have you considered voting for Barack Obama?”
Months went by. I was thrilled when Barack won the nomination. I hosted a “Convention Watch Party” in La Mision, Mexico, for friends there to gather in order to watch his acceptance speech. Most of us were in tears.
Then, as it happened, the election was upon us. Once again, the familiar refrain. I knew that a friend I had met during the Texas primaries, she herself from San Francisco, was going to Las Vegas to help out with the election. I realized once again, if I care this much, and have come this far, I guess I should volunteer for the election. So, on November 1st, along with my friend Laila, I headed to North Las Vegas and once again found myself going door to door. “Hi. My name’s Erin. I’m here from California. I hope you’ll consider voting for Barack Obama.”
We gathered together, those of us who had been working in the Las Vegas area, at the Rio Casino, on the Strip, to watch the election results. Just after 8PM, when the California returns were calculated, a roar went up from the ballroom as the realization sunk in. Barack Obama had just been elected President of the United States of America. Immediately hugs, high fives, cheering, and tears. People turned to each other, virtual strangers, but embracing a common humanity that somehow this campaign, this man, had brought out in us. It wasn’t his to give, it was ours, but in embodying it, he helped us uncover it in ourselves.
Which is why, of course, I had to go to DC. I wasn’t going to. I thought I’d watch the inauguration in Mexico, with friends there, to celebrate together. But there was a tug. An opportunity presented itself. So, on January 20, 2009 I found myself standing, well actually sitting, on the west side of the US Capitol building, a witness to history, celebrating, cheering, and once again hugging, high fiving, and embracing the strangers surrounding me as we honored our common humanity.