Ich Bin Ein Virginian

After four days of canvassing for Obama in Hampton, Virginia I want to paraphrase JFK in declaring, “Ich bin ein Virginian.” Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say, “Sugar, honey, I am now a Virginian.”

Because it was this previous bastion of conservatism, a former confederate state, that voted for Obama – the first black prez of the United States.

Yes, this calls for a chorus of Hallelujah.

Hampton, Virginia, a town of 150,000 on the Southeastern tip of Virginia, where I “lived” for four days, is now my favorite place on earth. Adopt me, Hamptonians, adopt me.

Carrying literature for Obama, I wove my way through primarily working class African American neighborhoods with names like RipRap Road and Kecoughtan, door-knocking and shaking hands and slapping people five, and weeping when people told me what an Obama election would mean to them.

I cried when a 76-year-old woman, Mary, told me, “Girl, I’ve lived through a lot of elections but I never thought I’d see the day when a black man was elected president.” I cried when I met a young woman from Hampton University who was voting for the first time, and called her grandmother in the hospital to tell her she was voting for her too. I cried when my friend Joan called me from Newport News (where she was posted) to tell me about driving a middle-aged woman named Peaches to the polls. When Joan showed her how to fill out an absentee ballot, she realized that the woman didn’t really know how to write and, in fact, had never voted before. But when Peaches came out of the booth and placed the “I voted” sticker on shirt, she just stood there radiant, beaming with joy. Peaches had been transformed by the process.

That’s not to say that everyone in Virginia was totally enamored with Obama. I met a white woman living in Section 8 housing, on Social Security disability, who was sure Obama’s election would mean that his Cabinet would be filled with angry black people who were out to get her. But when I told her that Obama was a lot more fair-minded than McCain who would likely try to privatize Social Security – cutting her disability benefits – she said she might just vote for Obama. And who knows maybe she came around.

On the evening of November 4th, I joined hundreds of party-goers at the Hampton Holiday Inn to watch the results. When Virginia went blue, I and, everyone next to me, shouted themselves hoarse, with a cacophonous roar of “YesObamaOhmyGodYaayyyyyyy.” And I can safely say I have never hugged so many strangers of so many colors, sizes and ages at one moment in time.

As one woman, Kimmi, told me as I was leaving the party after Obama won, “The feeling I have is indescribable…this is for all my ancestors, those seniors who fought the civil rights struggles to now have an African American President stand up for all people, of all races.”

Amen. This election has already made the world a better place. Ich bin ein Obamian.

This was cross-posted on Huffington Post

~Karen Friedman


November 10, 2008. Election 2008.

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