I didn’t vote in the 2008 election. I thought voting was dumb.
That was because politics was dumb. Why would you participate in a system that repeatedly left you out? Voting was for old people. I felt this way at fifteen, at nineteen, at twenty one. Nothing could get me to vote, to learn about unappealing people who you’d hear chattering about but never actually understand. Everything was foreign in politics. Government is abstract.
Perhaps that was the runoff of public education. In high school, I didn’t have an understanding of what politics or government meant nor what my relationship to it was. Maybe I was just frustrated and contrarian, not wanting to participate as a means of rebellion. That sounds about right.
I didn’t vote in the 2008 election. But I remember election night, hugging my aunt and uncle and friends after an early Obama victory, toasting—Joyous!—that we had accomplished our goal. I smiled at everyone and nodded, agreeing with policies, having participated in none of the activities leading up to the election of Barack Obama. I knew he was good news. I knew George W. Bush was bad news. But I didn’t get it. Everything was still abstract. I had still never voted.
It was a good night though. It was sad—Why couldn’t this win be for Hillary Clinton?—but it was still an accomplishment. Barack Obama was our first black president. He and Michelle and Malia and Sasha walked onto that Chicago stage later that evening, smiling, proud, still. They were together, focused, happy. Michelle stole the attention for me, her black into red speckled dress a whirlpool of subtle political action. As these national joys continued, Prop 8 in California went in the wrong direction and there was great stress about the future of queerness in America. Did that matter? Not to me. I didn’t vote. I didn’t participate in enabling that either way. That was not a part of my life or cares or desires. The end of election night in 2008 was joyous but only the joy associated with a party—and not a political one.
I became political, eventually. It was somewhere in between realizing I needed to vote in the 2012 election and becoming a devout listener to public radio and living in a place long enough. I have never lived in one city for more than four years until adulthood, until my post-collegiate move to Los Angeles. In staying in one place, politics crept in. You understand the context for everything. That was my introduction to voting: finally understanding a political system independent of education or “adult conversations.” This was a part of your life as an adult in a city.
And I voted. In 2012 at twenty six, I voted for the first time for Barack Obama. There was no other option (Mitt Romney? LOL.) as I stood in that elementary school gym lobby filling bubbles for political offices in the Great American Test Of Democracy. I went to work. I came home. Barry, as I would call him, won. I think I drank champagne.
This occasion was less joyous. Not for a lack of desire for Barry to win but because he—The president.—became such a comforting presence. Unlike either Bush or Clinton in my childhood, this was a presidency distinctly marked by a lack of drama. There was only a calm. There was only Barry and me. He felt so individual, like a friend’s dad who would crash a dinner party and your friend would try to get him to leave but everyone would want him to stay. He’s the guy you would smoke a menthol with outside of an art museum, the unlikely figure to be indulging in such activity yet here he was. He could tell you all about wine. He knew all the best books. He watched smart television. He could name obscure abstract musicians of the then and now. He was like you.
Maybe that isn’t the best thing in a nation of bubbles but Barry grew with me. I loved his family. I loved his cool cadence. I loved his smile. I loved his slow burn in politics, how he unfolded all the good fights over eight years, from marriage equality to the Affordable Care Act to the eventual release of Chelsea Manning. People complain about him but he taught me about politics, about America, and about myself. He helped me to see that I am a part of this system, a strange realization that should have been embedded in me as someone whose parents worked for the government.
But that’s exactly why I was blocked from anything government related: it was my life. Politics was the norm and I needed to rebel. It wasn’t until Barack Obama that I saw myself in politics, be it because he was a minority or because he was cool: I’m not sure. But I was there. It was a moment of representation that makes me emotional to think, this unexpected evolution despite the odds being extremely against him is a reminder of hope. That hope for him is a hope for ourselves: we believed in him because he believed in us. He was not perfect. He had critics. He had people who hated him but he soldiered on, undramatically, he and his family a paragon of contemporary America.
On this last day of Barry’s presidency, I want to tell him that I’ll miss him. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or over the weekend or next week or next year: what will transpire between tomorrow and 2020 is unknown. It could be more of the same, unoffensive and good, or it could be a nightmare. Regardless, what Barry empowered me with will remain and continue forth: a sense of urgency, to see myself in that White House. Party and politics aside, we should strive to have someone like us—A representative of the people.—representing us.
That’s what I will miss among many, many, many other things in our president. I want to thank you for everything, Barry.