It’s been raining since early this morning and it’s got me in a bit of a haze. The sky is grey and there’s flooding everywhere and it’s the kind of cold out that you can’t escape from even when you’re dry. I can’t help but be melodramatic and say that my city is in mourning. Today is Martin Luther King Day and on Friday we will be saying goodbye to our nation’s first black president and inaugurating a man who I can only describe as the biggest threat to civil rights we’ve seen in quite a long time. I think my mourning city has the right idea.
A little over eight years ago, I was gathered with friends at Sidetrack on election night. I remember crying when it flashed that Barack Obama was our new president. They played Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the outpouring of love that I felt as soon as that first “Ahhhh, Ahhh, Ahh, Oh” hit was an amazing feeling. People were hugging and crying and I felt something that I hadn’t ever felt before, politically speaking. I felt hope. I felt like we had turned a corner. I felt like I finally had a person in the White House who saw me. Here was a man who I admired. Who was well-spoken and charismatic. I had grown up surrounded by men who were bullies. Men who took what they wanted and didn’t care who they hurt or how they behaved. But here was a man who was elected by the people who was the antithesis of that. He was compassionate and thoughtful and smart and caring. It made me feel that I was finally living in a country where those qualities were being rewarded, rather than being pushed aside.
I grew up in a very tiny town in Northwest Ohio where the Civil Rights Movement was barely covered in history class, if at all. Although I haven’t lived there in nearly seventeen years, I can say with a large degree of certainty that there’s still not a single black family that lives there. When I stop to think about things like that, it’s easy to get blindsided by just how far we still have to go. President Obama being in office made it feel like we were at least headed in a more positive direction. With him leaving office though, it’s hard to believe that we as a nation are still pointing that way. In an opinion piece about Obama’s resilient optimism, The New York Times wrote, “Many Americans celebrated the election of the first African-American president as a welcome milestone in the history of a nation conceived in slavery and afflicted by institutional racism. Yet the bigotry that president-elect Donald Trump capitalized on during his run for office confirmed a point that Mr. Obama himself made from the start: that simply electing a black president would not magically dispel the prejudices that have dogged the country since its inception. Even now, these stubborn biases and beliefs, amplified by a divisive and hostile campaign that appealed not to people’s better instincts but their worst, have blinded many Americans to their own good fortune, fortune that flowed from policies set in motion by this president.” This most recent election, where the newly elected President of the United States has promised to undo all the progress that we have made as a country and as humans, has almost paralyzed me with grief. That we have a congress run by officials who have made it their sole mission to see the legacy of the first black President overruled rather than help the people who elected them has me feeling lost and broken. That I’m sitting here on MLK Day writing this has me feeling disgusted with our country if I’m being completely truthful. He certainly didn’t die for this.
I’m grateful that there are people like John Lewis and Elizabeth Warren and Gwen Moore and Al Franken and Lavern Cox and Nicole LeFavour and Samantha Bee and Harriet McKinney and David Crawley and Sergio Tundo who stand up for what is right and do so unashamedly and in the face of tremendous opposition. I am grateful for the support and love of groups like the Pantsuit Nation and I urge everyone to take an active role in politics and social issues going forward. I urge everyone to search their hearts and fight for what is right. Identify people you admire. Research them. Do what you can to empower the movements. Teach your children to love and be inclusive and to recognize things that are worth fighting for. Really research the people who are in these public offices that are only there to oppress this country’s people or to further their own careers and vote them out. This election didn’t happen in a vacuum. Trump was elected by the power of horrible people and on the backs of good people who did nothing to stop him.
As we gear up for yet another fight for equality, I look to the words of President Obama in his recent farewell address at McCormick Place here in Chicago. “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”
If he still has hope, then so do I.