Dear Barack Obama,
The first time I voted in a presidential election, I was in the eighth grade. My school–the cool middle school that it truly was–held a mock election and I helped head up the Democratic campaign for my class. I was the biggest Al Gore fan (and this was even before An Inconvenient Truth!). Like a bat outta hell, I had no reason to be as into the Democratic party as I was a bright-eyed-not-yet-politically-or-otherwise-jaded thirteen year old little lady. My parents had zero political influence in my life, in fact, I don’t think my mom votes even now. Regardless, I was taken by the whole scene. This would be my life.
I had a five dollar bet with my middle school crush, Joel Gaines (who is an identical twin! yikes!), on who would win both the real election and our mock election. Being in Washington state, Gore swept our school election and George W. Bush won the real one. The one that mattered. I was crushed. At least I broke even on the bet with Joel.
Four years later, I was so close to being able to actually vote. I was so mad at my birth year. I was so frustrated that all I was able to take part in was phone banking for John Kerry. I loved John Kerry. I still love John Kerry. I loved John Edwards. I still love John Edwards. I wanted him to be my first, legitimate vote. Alas, I was still too young.
In college, I started hearing buzz about you. I heard that you were a young, sharp, pretty good-looking man that might throw in a bid for the 2008 presidential run. You were a senator from Illinois. The now a-little-bit-older-and-much-more-jaded-politically-and-otherwise young lady in me thought this was all a huge impossibility. You were too young. You used to be a community organizer in freakin’ Chicago, for god sake. Your name was Barack.
Your name is still Barack, actually.
And you are Black. Hailing from a mixed race family, I had little to no faith in our society to accept someone not just Black, but Black and White. If I had learned anything by my 20th year living in America, it was that if you cannot fit neatly into a little box, you make people uncomfortable. A million times I have been asked, “what are you?” and I am not even trying to run for president. I saw this going nowhere fast.
And then you gained momentum. And you had this speaking voice that gave me, and plenty of other Americans, chills. Your oratory skills blew me away, blew us all away. Even the anti-Obamaers admit that you have such a way with words. Your voice, compared to the greatest speakers of our time, was enough to catch our attention. Your words were powerful and strong and the right words. You had, what we will all always remember. Hope.
Obama, you were precisely what our nation needed most at that point, after a really rough eight years of an administration we “elected” (Bush lost the popular vote and still managed to win the election) into office. You came to us, hopeful and fresh and passionate and smart and understanding and compassionate and all of the things I never thought I would see in a presidential candidate.
I cried when I turned my ballot in. We vote absentee in my county and I took my ballot to the dropbox downtown, got my “I Voted” sticker from campus and kept my “Barack the Vote” shirt on all day. I slept in it the night before. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had never felt before. After running on the treadmill, I received a phone call from my aunt. My aunt Regina is a former Black Panther, as is my father. She called me cracking up, as she usually is, to tell me she was leaving her office early that day. Living in Arizona, she had no support in the office she was working in at the time. They thought she was crazy for voting for you over John McCain. She called me, her familiar laugh ringing over the phone as she told me, “Jessie, it’s just like when we worked in the Panthers offices. The eggs they threw at the building, the rocks that broke the windows, none of that matters when you are fighting for change.”
And I cried on the phone, so proud of the relatives I have been blessed with. I cried realizing that for years and years I so desperately waited to vote for the President of the United States and the first person I cast a vote for was a man similar to me and my family. I did not have to compromise and vote for someone that could never relate to me, I got to vote for the first time, for a man who knew struggle. I called my older brother midday, nervous as I have ever been and, still crying, told him that I could not get over the lump of overwhelming sadness that I felt for everyone who had passed away before this moment. I knew you would win but I couldn’t get a line from Tupac Shakur out of my head all day:
And although it seems heaven sent/we ain’t ready to see a black President
There are millions of Black people who deserved to see this moment, and I had to remind myself that we were ready for it, with or without them. Our nation was ready for it, and there was no use mourning the dead. They can see you, President Obama. They are proud of you, they fought for you years before you were alive. They fought for us all. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and Bobby Seale and Huey Newton and my grandparents and everyone that has ever gone against the grain must know that they made a change. They had an effect. As you have.
No matter what happens on Tuesday (please don’t give us a hanging chad situation), I want to thank you, President Obama, for what you have given us, especially us young folk. For my first president, the one I chose and volunteered for and wanted to see in office, you were a great choice. I cannot imagine who could have changed the nation wholly in four years, but you made a nice dent. If you are not given the chance to continue your journey as our nation’s leader, I know you will still go on to impact the world as you have over the last few years.
They mock your hope now, but no one recalls how much we needed it then. How much we need it now. You instilled hope and began to instill change, and forevermore, we thank you.
(Now please, please, please, please win and keep my spirits high for four more years!)
Hugs and kisses and endless thank yous,
Jessica A. Tholmer