Tonight is the election. Barack vs. Mittens.
I am watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. I am wearing a silly I Heart Barack Obama t-shirt. I am drinking wine because I am truly nervous – not just because the sun has set.
And I am making a resolution – no matter what happens tonight, I am going to wake up tomorrow and it will be the first day of my citizenship.
I was born here, so I’m a US citien by birth. But as with many other things in my life – namely Judaism – I don’t feel like the geography of my mother’s uterus is enough to constitute a major, important, honorable part of my identity. I’ve worked to earn the right to say I’m Jewish – more on that later.
But I haven’t done ANYTHING to earn the right to say I’m American.
In fact, I’ve abused the right. I’ve been ashamed of my nation. I’ve felt detached from my country. I’ve felt angry at Republicans, embarassed by Bush, cynical about the system, disenfranchised from politics. I’ve complained and turned away from learning. I have busied myself with the politics of being a teenager, and the complications of stumbling upon adulthood. My own life has been enough to keep me confused over the past ten years (certainly more on that later), and so it was easy to skate along with a cursory knowledge of headlines.
But even those headlines – I’ve struggled to discover how to not be an ignoramus when it comes to politics and news. I’m a hyper-educated, socially liberal, philosophile former public school teacher who currently enjoys reading about leadership structures in with non-profits. I read and watch the news every day. Sometimes, if I’m feeling like a show-off, I send a Sunday styles article to a friend who might enjoy it.
And yet I am profoundly, staggeringly ignorant. I couldn’t explain the branches of government to a third-grader, I struggle to remember the names of cabinet members, and I know about as much American History as an eighth grader in Croatia. And yet I can say with confidence that this is as much a result of confusion as it a consequence of laziness. Beyond what I do, I don’t know what to do. And so that seems as much to be the task at hand as anything.
Here’s another weird thing: I just moved to a new city – Philadelphia, no less; how much more patriotic can you get without squatting on the White House lawn – and since I came here, I’ve become strangely drawn to a new path: becoming involved in civic associations and local politics. I can only explain my desire to be a part of the neighborhood group that plants trees and buys street lights as this: I am finally, for the first time in my life, understanding what it means to be a part of a community. I want to raise funds for local schools, and spearhead street cleaning campaigns, and rally my neighbors to support good state representatives (note to self- research what they actually do…). I have never been a part of a community in my life – more on that later, as well – and I love it. I feel in my bones – the way one feels in your spirit that a first date is the start of a new life chapter, or a book speaks spookily to some truth you’ve known always to be true, but didn’t have the words to express – that this is an important area in which to involve myself. I don’t know exactly how yet, but I’m ready to follow the breadcrumb trail. I hope that there will be much more on this, too, in the near future.
And now back to tonight. Romney is in the lead at the moment. I can’t believe this is happening. I feel guilt at not working more on the Obama campaign. If he doesn’t make it, I will somehow feel it was the direct result of my sloth. And so tomorrow is a new day, and the start of my Civicization.
If Obama wins, I will work to be involved on a local level to support good political ends here as much as I can.
If he doesn’t win, I will work to combat the assault on human rights – from health care to equality to education – that I anticipate will terrorize us for the next four years.
And in either case, I will work to figure out this question of becoming an Educated Citizen. Listening to NPR and reading Google News 12 times a day isn’t enough. So what is?
Here goes nothing. I hope to wake up next to you, Barack my love.