Personally, this all didn’t seem to really fall apart until 2003, when the Iraq war was ramping up. I was living in Edinburgh during the 2000 election, and voted for Ralph Nader by absentee — when Bush won, people seemed disappointed, but it was far from devastating; I don’t think we believed Al Gore would have been that much better a President, though at the time we didn’t know just how bad what we got would turn out to be.
The attacks on September 11 felt like a deep puncture wound. It was so sharp and focused that for most of us, it seemed to just shock us, but on the whole we felt like the attack was over. But it started bleeding.
At that point we needed to repair that wound, and call on the community to help us heal, but instead, our leaders used this wound — like a vampire, or a parasite — to further their new world view. I remember the lead-up to our invasion into Iraq well; the tech economy was in the toilet, and I was living at home doing not much else except writing free software and watching television. I went to the protest march in San Francisco — which felt unprecedented, that thousands would gather like that to protest a war that hadn’t started yet — and wrote letters to the administration; I didn’t know what to do, I just didn’t want us to go down that road.
I was watching the initial invasion on T.V. as it happened. There were cameras placed very near where our troops started on the invasion, and they showed (if I remember correctly) our actual first military vehicles as they advanced. This was it — it was real, it was happening, and I knew at the time that this would mark the start of a very long, very wrong part of our history. Things were going awry, out of control.
We couldn’t bring ourselves out if this in 2004. The war rhetoric was still too strong, and there was no hope or message of change. I know personally all too well how it feels for things to be bad and wrong, and stay that way, seemingly without any way out.
This fucking election was almost too much for me to handle. The primaries seemed like such a mess, with too many candidates on both sides and no clear leader, no-one I clearly wanted to follow, anywhere. Barack stood out, but early on it seemed like he or Hillary were both people I could live with. Once it came down to those two, I couldn’t support Hillary; it was another tiny step forward that Barack Obama got the nomination.
The presidential campaign was the worst. This tension has been building throughout the summer, punctuated by the breaking tightening things like this terrorist/muslim shit that came out. Leading up, the polls kept making the picture clear: we all wanted change, and were finding it in Obama, by a huge margin. But still, you don’t know what will happen, and up until Tuesday I could barely stand the suspense. I had been watching the early numbers coming in, which were looking good, but indecisive, and I left for Aikido at 7 PM. I hurt my knee halfway through class, and sat out the rest of it; then I heard cheering, and honking horns outside. Taking this as a cue to leave, I went back home and refreshed my computer — the electoral count was clear at that point, but it wasn’t until I read those words on a blog:
President Elect Barack Obama
that I lost it, and completely broke down in tears. I’m still cynical enough to not believe without evidence that things will change for the better, or that there is any reason to hope for things.
But shit, things really do feel like they’re changing. We were steering ourselves back on course, but we were still lost in the weeds — we had driven off the road, couldn’t see where we needed to return to, could get stuck in the mud or drive off a cliff at any moment. But we knew where we needed to go, didn’t panic, and steered ourselves back. We were positive this way would lead us back, maybe got a glimpse or two at what was ahead, but were still unsure. Then suddenly, the brush before us cleared, and before us was the road again, and so exhilarating is that sensation of returning, that shedding of all anxiety and sense of being lost.
I watched the acceptance speech in one of my favorite bars, and the whole thing was incredible. The energy of the place, nearly silent with focused attention, felt so huge and comfortable. This felt like history; a turning point as we moved forward, or a point where we tried and failed to move onward. I seriously hope that this is the point where the 21st century really took a leap forward, and became the century of peace, science, and good will we dreamed it could be.
This is getting overlong and sappy, so I’ll stop now. I feel happy and relieved.