1992 was the first presidential election year in my lifetime. I was three, and have no recollection at all. In 1996, I remember only the big pictures we had on the wall of my second grade classroom of the candidates, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole & Ross Perot. It was not until the year 2000 that I had some understanding of the issues, and as a sixth grader, was required to watch debates and be informed as homework. As an eleven year old, I still didn't understand a lot of the issues--my parents were voting for Gore/Lieberman, so I was rooting for them. We had an election in our social studies class, and of course in liberal Durham, Gore won. Of course, it was not so simple in the actual election. I remember my extreme frustration over the existence of the electoral college--it seemed to me an outdated system and I couldn't understand why we still used it (this is still true). I was growing into my tween years and this was one of the moments that I realized that life really wasn't fair. But I settled into the country with Bush as our president.
In 2004, I was fifteen and political. I had protested against the war in Iraq and the School of the Americas. I think I actually hated President Bush at that time (it was a time period of very strong emotions...). To be perfectly honest, though I do not hate Bush anymore (I find it a waste of energy to hate people), I think the damage he did to our country and our world are inexcusable, and I am truly in awe at anyone actually defending him anymore. However, Kerry/Edwards was not my ideal ticket--I liked John Edwards as a North Carolinian (this was before the douchebaggery became public knowledge), but Kerry was being celebrated for his Purple Heart, and as I was (still am) staunchly anti-war, this wasn't something I particularly liked about him. Still, in my mind at the time, he had to be better than Bush. The election wasn't nearly as close as it was in 2000. I remember walking into sixth period the day after the election and hearing Kerry's concession speech on the radio. Being the dramatic fifteen year old I was, I screamed "Nooooooooo!" and was in a terrible mood the rest of the day. My Civics teacher, we think, was depressed for a week.
Then came 2008. Through the primary process, it became clear that our strongest Democratic candidates were Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Therefore, our Democratic nominee was going to be historic--either a woman or an African-American. Barack Obama brought the message of hope and change--one that many of us as US Americans were very receptive to, especially given the previous eight years. I was nineteen years old, and this was my first presidential election to vote in. I got involved. I donated to the campaign. I have three Obama 08 shirts. I voted absentee from NC. And NC went blue that election. I felt privileged to be a part of it. When Obama made his acceptance speech, it was a moment that I felt that maybe the world could actually change.
2012. Four years have passed. Much has happened. A lot has changed for the better--Obamacare, the end of the Iraq war, lower unemployment, decreased national debt, beginnings of student loan reform, expansion of hate crime laws to include sexual orientation, significantly increased funding for VAWA, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act... Some things have not changed, or are worse. There have been more deportations of undocumented immigrants than under any other president. Guantanamo Bay is still in the business of inhumane torture. The US military, which Obama is Commander in Chief, has used drones to bomb in Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In some ways I am an idealist. I can be very cynical and sure that the world will never change, yet, here I am doing a second year in a full time volunteer postition, and why would I be doing that if I didn't truly believe that things could change? My idealist self is who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I believed in the change he promised. I felt hope that my government would actually work for the people. It hasn't been a perfect four years and I am not as gung-ho in support of Obama now in 2012. I don't agree with many of the choices he made re: militarism and perpetuating US world dominance, and this gave me enough pause to seriously consider voting instead for Jill Stein, the green party candidate, who is much closer in line with my ideals.
But when it came down to it, I voted for Barack Obama for a second term. The two party system is terrible (another post for another time...), but while I am working within this system, I did not want to take my vote away from Obama and risk Romney winning. So I thought a lot about why I did vote for Obama besides that he's better than Romney--why is he better than Romney?
I voted for Obama because he supports equal rights for women, women's reproductive rights, the DREAM Act, gay marriage, small businesses, a scaled income tax, stricter gun control, available healthcare and insurance for everyone (the Obamacare system is not perfect either, but again, another time...) and is working hard to improve lives of the every day US Americans (instead of JUST the rich--though it's not like he's ignoring them). I don't forget the militarism, and I don't approve. But I still have hope that things can change--though it is a US culture of violence that will need to be changed more than just by Obama's policies, to be truthful.
I voted early last week for four more years with Barack Obama. I may not have the blind optimism from before, but I still believe in that hope he promised, and I still believe he can help move this country forward. But it's not just up to him--we owe it to ourselves and future generations to be involved in our communities and in our local governments.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
-President Barack Obama
More election day reading:
What Has Obama Done So Far?
Colorlines: Obama & Wall Street
The Christian Left: Why I'm Voting for Jill Stein
Crunk Feminist Collective: Black Women Rock the Vote/Black Men Mock the Vote?