I’m not sure if that’s quite the right title, or if that’s exactly where my thoughts are going, but bear with me. Oh yeeah, it’s more post-election processing.
If you’re an Oregonian, or if you’re political junkie enough to have followed the Senate races closely, you know the Jeff Merkeley hoo-haw. Close, exceedingly close race; the Republican, Gordon Smith, has been in the Senate since gawd-knows-when and had developed a rep as a moderate Repub, fairly centrist; but he has some baggage, like his pro-Bush voting record of late and the dischord of his harshly anti-immigrant stance with his illegal-immigrant-dependent family company (Smith Frozen Foods). It was a squeaker, but the Democrat – Merkeley, a blue-collar union guy – was called as the winner the following Thursday. (Not as much drama as Coleman v. Franken, but whew! enough drama for me, baby.) As I stayed up late scrolling through comments on our beloved (ha!) local rag, The Oregonian, I detected a common thread in many of the responses, and it interested me … not just for what it showed about Oregon, but about this election, from start to finish, and about this country, even. Maybe.
The responses that got me thinking were from Eastern Oregonians, mostly, which is – if I may grossly overgeneralize here — is Redneck Country. Ranchers, cowboys. Hunters. Big-truck guys and horse-owners. The emotion expressed was something along the lines of: How dare those big-city @#$% tell me who MY senator is? Merkeley knows nothing about me or what I believe. He CANNOT COMPREHEND me or my life. He CANNOT REPRESENT me. I CANNOT ACCEPT that he’s been chosen, because I did not choose him. The system is profoundly broken if urban Portland can choose Eastern Oregon’s Senator.
Uhh, kinda standard post-election bitching, you’re thinking, and yeah, maybe so, maybe so. And maybe I’m reading too much into this. But what ran through my head was …
a quick recap of my whole life …
which has been a whole life of being represented by people who do not know what I believe, who do not comprehend me, who do not comprehend my life.
A lifetime of being represented by people who don’t understand what reproductive freedom means to me. People who have never dealt with sexist barbs, and real barriers, in work or school. People who don’t know any Mexicans other than the gardeners they walk by. People who have never lived a year on under $10,000, people who’ve never spent a week in jail because they lacked $80 for a parking ticket, people who have never had to use the free clinic, never had teeth pulled because they lacked dental insurance, people who’ve never shed a tear over extinction, people who’ve never shed a tear over ‘collateral damage,’ people who’ve never lost a night of sleep over the injustices of the world.
I accept that. I have to. If you’re Latina, black, Asian. If you’re a woman. An immigrant. If you’re queer, trans, biracial, bisexual, Buddhist, Muslim … if you put animals first, if you put babies first, if you’re in prison, if … if you don’t fit an extremely narrow mold, you’re not represented by people who understand you. You’re not represented by people who put your priorities first. And you know it, and you deal with it. You accept it and move on. You get behind leaders who you don’t identify with, but who you think can do a job adequately, or even well. You don’t angst about it. In fact, the whole notion that you – that people like you – could really have a leader that reflects you – well, it’s not something you lose sleep over, is it? It’s never been that way, and you’ve survived, you’ve – I hope – thrived.
About three nanoseconds: that’s how long it took for all that to flash through my mind. And I thought, not hatefully, I hope, not gloatingly, but I thought: Better get used to it, guys. Better get used to not being the norm. Get used to leaders who don’t look like you, don’t sound like you. I’m used to it already. It’s your turn now.
And of course, my thoughts go full circle, back to Obama. It seems to me that he’s had the experience of being an elite, of being in the boy’s club, wearing the $1,500 suit, having a driver, being the Harvard alum, the law professor, the superstar young politician. All to the good; who can begrudge him? Because what strikes a chord with my is his other experiences; experiencing racism. Facing the assumptions made. Not getting that cab, not getting that call back, not getting that rental. Being called a name, getting that subtle and not-subtle message, all his life.
That means an enormous amount to me. It means that he has some sense of how that woman feels when she walks down the street wearing hijab and hears “Towelhead!” or how that other woman feels when she’s told she can’t use the ladies’ room because she looks like a man. How that kid feels when his classmates taunt him with “Faggot!” or how the Korean kid feels when he’s taunted with “Chink!” How a Garcia feels when their last name turns a traffic stop into a full body search and warrant check, or an Al-Hamidi feels when his name turns an airline security line into an interrogation. And that sense – it makes so much difference.
See, I don’t ask that my leaders look like me or sound like me or believe what I do. I’m waaay past that. But suddenly, I have a hope that at least one leader – a rather important one – has an inking, a glimmer, of what it’s like to be me. Someone who’s seen society from the top down, and the bottom up, a least a touch. It means – who knows? Who knows what it will mean? But maybe, just maybe, it means a lot.