It was the question everybody asked back when my parents were kids: "What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?" That was before Pearl Harbor, when people thought we had fought the War to End All Wars.
Now we're fighting two wars at once, with Mommy and Daddy on the front lines. Here at home, we stand at the eve of an election whose conclusion is far from a sure thing. Ohio is tightening, Florida is close, and across the country there are electoral abuses worthy of a second-rate Third World country. Now is not the time for complacency or pessimistic speculation.
There are 24 hours left to frame an answer to this question: What did you during the Great Election? Did you vote? Was that all that you did? Or did you make phone calls? Drive people to the polls? Did you call everybody you know?
It's hard to talk about this election without sounding melodramatic. A lot is on the line. Our democracy itself needs extensive reforms - in voting, in privacy, in the restoration of habeus corpus - or it may not survive. (It's only a partial democracy today.) And the very survival of the species may depend on whether we make the right decisions in the next decade. Dramatic? Hell yes, it's dramatic.
I spend most of my workday performing pretty dry tasks in the healthcare world. I analyze data, write papers, run spreadsheets, make forecasts, help design software tools ... but for the big issues I look to the poets and mythmakers. Poets, like pundits, have been predicting an Obama victory for a while now, using the pleasing metric structure of his name as a predictor. (See this study, which I discovered through the blog of my friend Michael Lally.)
Unreliable? Or course it is. But my guess is that it's a better predictor than the voters of Dixville Notch - and the pundits use them every election season. As for the polls, they look great for Obama. Bookies, who are even more reliable than pollsters, are giving 7:1 against McCain. But should we sit back and accept a 1 in 7 chance of losing everything we hold dear, including our environment? When you consider the stakes, the odds suddenly don't seem quite good enough.
And even the bookies aren't considering the possibility the election will be stolen. Theirs is a world with smaller-scale kinds of crime. They don't think that big. So we need to build a cheat-proof margin - and then press Obama for a Justice Department investigation if he wins. The election-stealing won't end until some of these Washington insiders do some real jail time.
Sure, Obama will disappoint us at times if he's elected. If he's elected. But he's gifted and well-intentioned. He's a pragmatist, he's observant, and he's shown an ability to adapt to changing circumstances. So our first job is to get him elected. Then we need to form a movement - for economic fairness, the restoration of the Constitution, the end of war, and the healing of the Earth - and make it a movement that both supports and influences Obama. That same movement can draw energy from his election, exciting a new generation and re-energizing older ones to deeper social and political involvement.
That kind of two-way flow between a new government and a newly energized populace could make real change. Will it? We can't know the future. We can only act based on today's knowledge. What we do know is that a McCain Presidency would lead to a much greater scale of widespread human suffering. That's reason alone to go to work - and it's one reason why I don't have much patience right now for world-weary expressions of ennui and doubt. I don't disagree with the premise that things might not work out - but our job right now is to try. And to work with the tools at hand.
But we can't just ride the tide to victory. The poets of ancient Greece described the whitecaps on waves as "the manes of Poseidon's horses." It takes millions of horses, moving together, to turn the tide.
We're Poseidon's horses. It's not Obama's tide. It's ours. But it can only turn if we move together. He can only win if we work even harder over the next 24 hours. Which leads us back to the original question ...
What did you do during the Great Election?
RJ Eskow blogs when he can at: