When I think back to Obama's victory in 2008, I remember my wardrobe at the time being a regular rotation of different Obama-emblazoned t-shirts. I remember working at a phone bank and using my elementary Spanish skills to harass beleaguered Floridians about getting to the polls. I remember setting up a mock polling place in my second grade classroom for the entire school to visit, class-by-class, filling out their ballots and learning about what was at stake. I remember the build-up to election night and planting myself in front of the TV with my laptop, hitting "refresh" on multiple news sites in constant succession, and crying tears of joy when the good news came rolling in. This year, I found myself sitting lazily on my couch in an old sweatshirt, sighing in relief when Obama was named the victor, and being asked "you're not waiting up for the speech?" by Bill as I trudged off to bed.
Some of this could be blamed on my current state of pregnancy (the trudging, certainly, and the fact that my Obama t-shirts no longer fit), but other than that, I'm not sure that my lack of engagement had much else to do with my large belly. I felt, well, disenchanted with the whole election. Obama's 2008 message of hope had been so compelling, and I had fallen so much in love with the notion of real change, meaningful change, and even possibly fast change. And there have certainly been those moments - for me, most notably, Obama's public embrace of gay rights, the Race to the Top education initiative, and the huge strides in providing health care for everyone. But lately the negativity of the 2012 fight-to-the-death election has worn on me, and seeing Obama's lack of vigor in the first debate wasn't just a disappointing polling incident to me, it was a confirmation of my fears that the grueling day-to-day world of political games had caught up with even the vaunted idealist himself. I still supported the campaign as much as ever, and sent in regular donations, but with less exuberant optimism.
Most strangely of all, I felt sorry for Romney and his supporters. I had never hated him on a personal level, as much as I may have disagreed with his stances on some important issues. I saw him as someone who, like many Republicans, felt that their version of America was slipping away. Though I love living in the liberal fantasy land that is San Francisco (where one of our top-debated issues is if we should continue to let gay men wander naked through the city), I have true empathy for people who live in communities far from the left-leaning coasts. In those towns I can only surmise that shared values matter more, that sharing a church and religious values with your neighbors is more pressing than it feels in the distraction of big cities. When you've done okay for your family despite tough financial times and embraced personal responsibility yourself, the notion of voting your tax dollars towards social programs for the disadvantaged must feel hugely unfair. And with that you also have to compromise what "family" means to you/your church, or "life" (even if I think it's time for letting go of those "traditional" values, it's still not easy for those who have to do the letting go). I can't say that I blame Romney or many of his followers for simply feeling afraid. The world that they've known is changing, and all they want is to preserve the things they know. Obama's slogan, "FORWARD," could not be more apt - we plow ahead and cannot stop, even if we wanted to. "Forward" doesn't necessarily mean better, it simply means that things can't stay the same as they've been. Welcome to the human condition.
Quite a few friends have been mildly horrified by my elation-less reaction to Obama's win. That's not to say that I don't think it's incredibly important - I know that Obama is someone I can trust to mostly make policy decisions I'll agree with and generally champion issues that matter to me. But overwhelmingly I felt that the election brought out the worst in Americans. The fear of change and compromises of values and personal financial responsibility that conservatives confronted was drummed up into a hatred of liberals and a condemnation of "handouts" and "freeloaders." Liberals assaulted the "ignorance" of religious people and the out-of-touch millionaires of the right, and then, upon Obama's victory, condemned Republicans as losers and irrelevant. Though each side's critique of the other may bear some truth, the extremes to which they've been stretched results in caricatures of distant, unintelligible enemies. And now that the election is done, the residue of this mutual hatred hasn't faded. My liberal friends delight in the genuine pain of the Republicans, and Republicans in turn attribute Democratic gains to a loss of real moral values in our country. How can we move "forward" like this?
This past week I was frustrated by a facebook acquaintance's public condemnation (via facebook status update!) of facebook itself. She wrote about how, ultimately, it's bad for us as humans. I was also annoyed by a comment about the gentrification of the mission neighborhood in SF and how it's "not the same" as it was. I found myself feeling the same emotions that I did in response to the election - a vague anger about people who fight change and condemn others without any positive proposals. Facebook is something that has changed our social landscape, it's not inherently good or evil, it's a tool that you can choose to use for good or evil. If it isn't working for you, quietly leave, without a judgmental epistle. "Gentrification" is just another type of change - neighborhoods cannot stay the same forever - yes they can change in ways that some people feel are good and others think are bad, but trying to preserve it just because it's been one way for a while seems absurd. As if there weren't entirely different groups of people (let's take it back to the Native Americans) who were there before the current ones.
I don't at all blame people for disliking Obama or despising facebook or not wanting more Google shuttle stops in their neighborhood. In those cases I would recommend, first and foremost, appreciating the fact that we live in a free society where you can make choices for yourself about any of those things (i.e. vote, quit, move). But if you're driven to launch public tirades about any of the above, be willing to present a solution other than just vilifying it and shutting it out, first because all three are here to stay, and especially because whether you're talking about Obama or facebook or gentrification, what's really upsetting you are forces and issues that are far deeper than the manifestations you're railing against (a changing US demographic? too much technology in our lives? minorities being underserved in education and not getting high-paying jobs to afford local rents?).
Rather than assail Obama or Romney or their supporters as inherently bad, focus on the specifics of their platforms and write/campaign/preach about that, but in a solution-oriented way. If you hate facebook, identify how we could be using it better and model that, rather than just quitting and hoping it disappears. If you hate the techies in your neighborhood, well, there's another reason to quit using facebook, and throw out your latest Apple gadget while you're at it, or move (although really I'd recommend working to improve your local public schools so that all families have the education and earning-power to stay). But change is inevitable. We will always be moving "forward." Rather than clamoring for the good 'ole times of the past, focus on what direction change should be taking, and put in the work to shift things in that direction. We can mourn the loss of things we love without throwing a fit and accusing others of being evil and ignorant.
Change is hard, change is emotionally draining, change forces us to confront our fears and challenges us to adapt. We may not be able to stop it, but we can stop ourselves from wasting the opportunity for positive improvements and progress. Don't get left behind.