While swiping through instagram stories with a late-morning I need more coffee swiftness, I saw a story from a friend whose son voted for the very first time. There he was, with a sticker and pride shining through a 30-second square frame. I don’t know who he voted for or how the internal matrix of their life works, but if I had to take a hopeful guess, I’d say the Biden/Harris ticket.
President Obama’s first term was the first time I voted. I was 18 with two jobs living in Brooklyn. I just moved back to my mother’s place for some reason or another, but felt this odd and true adult freedom that I still can’t deny to this day. I thought by the time I was in my 30s, I’d look back and think that I was just performing adulthood. But reality and growth tells me that maybe I was always just truly doing it. At 18 I knew why Obama mattered—outside of the necessary vision of a Black man in power, who could speak to me and so many Black other teenagers performing or truly in their adulthood with power and grace, that made us listen like our own fathers were sitting us down for a conversation. Have HOPE. I couldn’t escape it, I read it on every screen and Brooklyn window too.
A month or so after Obama was elected into office, my grandmother surprisingly passed away. She was way too young, and the fracture it caused within many has split off like metastasising splinters and healed itself again and again. Before Obama and alongside my mother—maybe even more-so in a unique way, she was the first administer of this kind of hope.
Yesterday, on what would have been her 74th birthday, my uncle reminded us of the poster of Obama above her bed, and initially, I couldn’t remember. I think it’s because my mind kept seeing her and the poster somewhere else—in the apartment we all practically grew up in for over 18 years. Not the one she lived in for the latter part of her life. In that childhood apartment of my grandmother, there were bundles of pins on her vintage tables of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. They were all so different, but remained visible and touchable—like museum relics of her life’s work in the community. Up until yesterday, I would say that my first time canvassing was for Obama’s second term, but in reality it was during Al Sharpton’s run for President in 2004 when I was 14, with my grandmother. Who stood on her street handing out flyers and pins, and whipping up conversations with everyone who knew her. My grandmother—a fierce and gentle woman of faith, was my first introduction to the bipartisanship of real community work, politics and faith. She laid the road map of how a love for God, had to be translated into actionable love for fellow-humans. And with that, had to be enacted at every intersection of life. Even when you went to the booth.
The sun shined as it snaked around the block from my early voting location. I wore white and vintage chocolate leather that reminded of her. I listened to my playlist, that made me do a little dance while I moved through the line swiftly. Instead of HOPE signs clad on windows, I read BLACK LIVES MATTER, and ducked my head back forward and stood and danced some more. My kids’ didn’t come with me, but I found two of their tiny toys shoved into the bottom of my purse, and then I danced again. When the line got closer and the sun got warmer, I started to fiddle with my pin I was way too eager to put on. It felt like bad luck to wear it before voting. “Cross the threshold and snap the sucker on!” I thought. When I got closer, the chunk in my throat got so big and unavoidable. I tried to swallow it whole.. Shaking it out I hope. But it wouldn’t dissipate. I was angry, sad, tired, and invigorated at once. I missed my grandmother and felt her, and the importance of my one blue vote down the Working Families Party line, and how the lead up and follow out of this day would always mean more. That is, the alignment of community and ethics.
I started to turn the corner, and just as I felt the chunk in my throat clearing as I released it with more rational and plan-thinking, I saw two elderly people come out and place their stickers on their chests. Their masks on, gently avoiding the crowds of younger folks standing 6 ft apart. Then another lady came, and she shuffled her way to the front of the line. Then a mom with a baby, she went ahead too. And all hell started to break loose within me. The chunk flowed into tears I could no longer swallow whole. Like some ship we all needed to depart, the eldest and the youngest went first and those of us who found ourselves in a different kind of middle could wait. Each of us had a part to play. And as I circled my oval bubbles in as dark as I could and placed my pin on and said thank you and thank you again, I allowed myself that moment of unique power and pride, and also the space for the emotion that came along with it.
My grandmother always taught me that rest was important, but it implied that you would always be in action.. And none of which, is really about performance. It’s about living ethically. And in my case, hyper emotionally too. I know it is hard to have hope, but have hope.