My first job out of college was community organizer. Now that's a hot term. Back then, for me, in the 2004 presidential election it was a duty. For my country, for the world. Every morning I was getting up to keep George W. Bush from getting re-elected. If he won another term, he would be getting away with it--away with starting the wars, putting our country into some dark shell of its former self. Paul Krugman's right, we cannot ignore the crimes of the Bush administration even if crisis forces us to move forward.
I fought for my country in 2004. I didn't fight for it like my former college roommate is fighting now in Iraq, but I lived and breathed something I believed was a matter of life and death. Bush smelled of Armageddon since the first election. We couldn't give him a second term. Ironically, before graduating college and joining the 2004 campaign, I read a book that nearly shocked me out of my young idealism. It's called Addicted to War, a comic book about the U.S. military industrial complex and its widespread impact and control on the world. This book is devastating, each footnoted fact lifts back the veil of ignorant bliss. Reading this book made me realize Bush can't be defeated. I even called my dad in a near panic. He did his best Yogi Berra speech, using one of his favorite sayings: have the courage of your convictions. So I went heart first into the 2004 election.
The campaign was amazing. The long, long hours. Being in at 7am, staying sometimes until 1am, later. Working closely and intensely with dynamic, hilarious people, doing the craziest things like office dodgeball because there's no loonier high than lack of sleep. The drinking, the sex, the Melrose place gossip, the alliances and betrayals. I can't tell you how strange a site it was to see young people in their pajamas on a Sunday going to brunch, leading normal lives, when I had already been turbo-productive since 8am. You learn to make five minutes go a long way working on a campaign. Every vote counts so you spend your time trying to reach the most people possible. I feel bad for the men and women who lost or nearly lost their boyfriends and girlfriends to campaigns. Working on one is a special experience, the stuff of novels. The only time I woke up with a hangover was the day after the election--Bush had won. Never been so hungover.
I wouldn't say I lost my ideals after that, I just needed to do something else than think about politics. I had been working in politics since I was sixteen. Okay, I felt dead inside. I went the private sector rout than look for a job on Capital Hill or at a non-profit. I didn't hitch my star to that name that was being buzzed about even back then, Barack Obama. I thought, Bush won again, it's obviously meant to be. The apathy set in. There's this condition called learned helplessness where the sufferer feels resistance is futile. Why vote? That's what I heard so many times while campaigning. Why vote, when corporations, the C.I.A., Dick Cheney decides elections for us? Why vote? I was struggling to shove my idealism down the throats of apathetic voters, incensed by their cynicism, their laziness, I soon became one after we lost. I suffered learned helplessness along with the rest of the country.
And then came Barack Obama. I admit I didn't fall in love right away, it took me until the general election to dive into that kool-aid and get it. I guess I was annoyed at the wave of support he got because he was some rock star, a Messiah when that shouldn't matter. John Kerry should have gotten the same amount of support in 2004 because of what was at stake if Bush got four more years, and he did, all because John Kerry couldn't give a speech that wasn't the color of oatmeal or make a decision without a focus group. I resented the Obamamaniacs for not being there sooner, for needing a rock star before they got that active, that instrumental. I sat this election out, knowing full well what I was missing, and I was jealous that the fight was so much more electrifying this time around because of the leader. Though I am thrilled Obama has turned so many people on to public service--he isn't the only one we need right now.
Today I go to Washington to experience the inauguration, to be with my fellow Americans. And today I write a letter to my former self, the one who lost a four-year relationship working long hours on that campaign, who felt so sure of victory on that campaign, who learned to stop worrying and love John Kerry on that campaign. I write that letter to you because since then, the impossible has happened. And it's going to have to keep on happening to turn this world around. What I'm saying is, don't go in fear, don't go in isolation, open your heart to the impossible.