Accident, or the Ecstacy of Ascent

November 6th, 9:45pm

Yoga typically isn't where I spend Election Night. Having been involved with politics in some capacity for most of my adult life, on Election Night I'm usually either doing GOTV (calling voters and knocking on doors) or glued to the tube, waiting for election results.

But on Election Night 2012, I did something a little different. I did my volunteer GOTV work leading up the campaign, and now just wanted to relax and see what happened. I took a kundalini yoga class, and executed moves I wasn't able to do before. I felt particularly strong and centered. While in the blissful torpor of an endocrine-induced haze, I had flashbacks to the last four elections prior to this one, and in the process realized a few things about the nature of ascent:

Election Night 2004: I'm just out of college.  I'm volunteering at the Kerry headquarters in Alhambra, in LA County. I'm very passionate about delivering the Kerry talking points, but what really stood out to me were the Wahoo's fish tacos around the corner.

Election Night 2006: I was in a ballroom in the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. (Movin' up! From the Eastside to Downtown!) There was some DNC party there, and Hilda Solis gleefully announced, "Nancy Pelosi is now the speaker of the House!"

I thought, "Oh cool, there's a female Speaker." Then I blinked. I didn't think much else; I was 23.

Election Night 2008: I was on a bar on U Street in Washington, DC. I had two friends visiting from California, and we stopped into a bar to watch the results with what I thought was good anticipation. The announcement came quickly and we, like Barack, were caught off guard. Michelle held him together on stage, and we held tightly to the railing off the bar's balcony as I watched U Street flood with cheering people.

"He won!!!!" everyone was screaming. Surprise - the underdog won. Surprise, history happened to be made. Another surprise - our friend, the dope transgender performance artist D'Lo, happened to also be visiting from LA, and was cheering on top of a newspaper stand at the corner of 14th and U. It was like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's friends and family pass by her house; but this was more wizard of Wonder, with 41 degree weather.

Election Night 2010: All efforts were made to generate the least amount of political surprise possible, and those efforts fell on their face. At the time, I worked at a civic engagement organization trying to turn out the young vote, and young voters nationwide just couldn't motivate for mid-terms. I canvassed Philadelphia, along with other lefties who made the trek from DC.  The day was cold, and pretty bleak: on the way back, we got the news that the Dems had lost the House. To boot, some macabre weirdos wanted to watch the City of God on the bus ride back. As the film's bullet noises blinked off the bus windows, I curled up in my seat and decided that the best thing to do was just to go to sleep.

Election Night 2012: At the risk of calling a box a square, it seems that O might just win tonight. I have emerged from an intentional physical practice to laud what was one hell of an intentional campaign, despite everyone's very best bullshitting. An Obama win would be another win against all odds; although it might be a bit of a surprise, it sure wouldn't be an accident.

While on that yoga mat, I thought of me and my Dad's recent tour of the White House with my friend, who works for the administration. The White House felt so cozy and welcoming, even at 9pm at night. There was a pumpkin carved with the presidential seal on it. The Obama White House felt like a home - and I was there with my father, nonetheless!

I am now almost 30, and Obama is almost winning. This time, it's not an accident - it's intentional. And as a matter of fact, it's bad-ass.

November 8th, 6:30pm

322 vs. 206 :) 

Obama in South Philly windowsills: Hope and Change on 11.2.2010

Just like some Latino families have faded pictures of the Virgen de Guadalupe or the Holy Family in their windowsills, some black families have pictures of the First Family in their windowsills.

On Election Day 2010, I volunteered to canvass South Philadelphia neighborhoods in order to get folks out to the polls. I saw a lot of crumbling buildings, and brownfields, but also a lot - a LOT - of images of Obama.

In South Philadelphia, Obama seemed to BE the Democratic party. "Obama needs your help - vote today!" some of the literature said. And most said they were going to. The neighborhood was economically depressed, but almost every SINGLE person I talked to - no joke - said they voted, or were on their way to vote, and knew where their polling place was. Contrary to popular belief, neighborhoods other than rich ones vote early and often.

It is, in public sector speak, an "engaged community." Here's the thing, though: being civically engaged and being served are two very different things entirely.

The Stimulus Bill was supposed to fix problems like elderly people being swindled into bad deals or out of their homes. One older man who pointed to a grassy field across the street from him and said that a developer came in there, started to build something, tore it down, and let it lie fallow. This man tried to re-model his home using that same developer, only to find later that the developer had gone bankrupt and the money he poured into improving his home had been lost forever. 

"That man robbed 51 senior citizens," he said. "And I've never seen a dime of my money back."

Residents of South Philly might "made their voices heard" at the polls, but they're just not listened to.

Which leads me to this conclusion: engagement is not enough. 

The public sector needs to check itself; dialogue and participation are no substitutes for respect.

The fairest conversations are ones in which both sides listen to each other; but politics is a blood sport.