I know these are probably some really overused words today, but I really do feel this collective pride, relief, happiness and elation. It feels like, finally, after 8 years of complete insanity, we can finally expect actual Leadership from the President of the United States. Being 25, I became an “adult” under Bush – if that makes sense. But his Presidency really had an enormous impact on the world, and my perception of it. Countless times, I have felt so utterly dismayed, upset, shocked by the actions of Bush and his cronies, and on a very personal level, Obama’s election is so meaningful.
One of the most beautiful things about this election is that it’s meaningful for so many people, on so many levels, and for so many different reasons – it puts Obama in the undesirable situation of having to deliver on a lot of fronts, but, for now, we should revel in this moment and appreciate how absolutely deal changing this election is.
In the spring of 2003, during my sophomore year in college, I went to Detroit over spring break. I went with a group of students from Tufts, through a program called Volunteer Vacations which organizes week long trips to underserved communities for student volunteers during school vacations. We drove to Detroit in a large van, 13 of us – we were a motley crew, and none of us knew each other prior to the trip. We were staying in a church in downtown Detroit, with sleeping bags on the floor. Our mission was to work with a group called SOSAD (Save our Sons and Daughters), which was founded by a group of mothers whose children had been killed in gun violence. These women organized volunteers to go into inner city schools and talk to teenagers about conflict resolution, peace and non-violence.
Our first day of training, we were given some strategies to engage with the teens in the classrooms – how to break the ice and get them to talk to us, their “peers”. During the training, other mothers from the community came to talk to us about how their child had been killed – some got in a fight, and were shot; others were victims of stray bullets. I had not anticipated this level of emotional intensity for a volunteer stint – quite frankly, I didn’t really understand the dynamics at play in Detroit.
The 13 of us were quite shaken by the end of training, and really dreaded our assignment. When we went to the schools, we were met by metal detectors, long looks and suspicion. Besides the fact that we were a bunch of privileged kids from a liberal arts college on the East Coast, we were also trying to talk them about conflict resolution and non violence precisely at the same time as Bush was launching his useless war in Iraq.
On March 17th 2003, when we began “shock and awe”, my group was gathered around a TV, at a pastor’s house who lent us his place (and his fridge full of beer – yes). We had been recounting the events of the day, but when the images of the bombing began, the room fell silent and we realized how absurd it was for us to preach peaceful conflict resolution and non violence when our LEADERS were going against that very principle. I’ll always remember the way I felt, which I don’t think I can really describe with mere words. I felt so disheartened, so defeated. Compounded by the fact that we were in possibly one of the bleakest places in America, it was a very dark time, and it shook me to the core. That semester, I was taking a photography class I really got into, and expressed a lot of this anger, frustration, sadness and fear through art (which is NOT my forte), which might have been the only time I’ve been able to capture these feelings outside of my own mind.
The feeling of powerlessness and disgust, when a 14 year old girl actually ASKS us “how can you talk about peace when our own country is killing innocents?” Well, that was a great question. How CAN we talk about peace in those circumstances? How hypocritical can we be with a straight face?
The Detroit trip was really eye opening for me on many levels, a defining moment in my young life – most significantly, it awakened me to the brutal reality of the world, which of course I had not ignored until then, but simply had not FELT.
Last night, that strange, inexplicable weight I have been carrying with me for nearly six years was lifted.
Well, not entirely – nothing has changed yet. We still have a million battles to fight, and justice has yet to be restored (or created). But what’s amazing, is that today, there is actual HOPE that it can be done. And I’m so thankful to Barack Obama for making me feel that we can still fight for good, and that that’s precisely what he’s going to do.
Thank you, Barack Obama, for the hope you are instilling in all of us.