Monday, October 20, 2008

The Power That IS

The election is very much on my mind right now, as I’m sure it is on everyone else’s. Registering to vote is half the battle, but the rest is about having the confidence to claim your rightful place at the polls. And, yes, I do think that voting requires feeling as much confidence in yourself as you ideally do in the candidates. So often, I think, people shy away from voting out of fear of being let down.

My dad told a story about going to his barbershop (in a predominantly black community) during the primaries and hearing the old guys chatting about Barack Obama. The tone of the conversation was discouraged, sort of a "yeah, but let's not get our hopes up" kind of mood about the prospect of a black president. They didn't plan to vote, didn't see the point.

By the time my dad went for his next haircut, Obama had secured his party’s nomination. The same guys were there, but sitting a little taller, talking with excitement, letting themselves believe that maybe, just maybe... They had taken to watching the coverage, were following the news. They’d dusted off their voter registration cards, or stood in line to get one for the very first time.

The difference in attitude was palpable. Suddenly, these old guys were buoyed by self-confidence. Maybe they had even begun to see a little bit of themselves in the famous senator from Illinois. I suspect many people, black Americans in particular, feel this way about Obama. I’m sure a lot of women felt something similar about Hillary Clinton during the primaries. And there are no doubt some now who feel it for Sarah Palin, as well. People who for the first time can look up and see someone like them standing in glory underneath the lights.

Hearing my dad's story made me realize that the results of this election will say much more about us, the everyday people, than it will about the winner. Surely those old men in the barber shop have both witnessed and internalized the struggles of their community. They must have known deep down that you always have to stand up, if what you believe in is ever going to come true, but they still sat back at first, waiting to see what would happen, waiting for the powers that be to hand down a candidate.

One thing has really hit home for me this election season: we can’t wait anymore. The simple act of voting is a huge step toward claiming your personal power. We all need to take a deep breath, look at ourselves in the mirror, and know that our voice matters.

We are all part of the power that is.

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