Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we did, a new voter's landmark day

Jeremy Whiting shares his experience voting in this historic presidential election.

"Yes We Did.

I am an undergraduate student at Wayne State University. Yesterday, I voted for the first time in my life, and what a first time it was. I drove from Detroit back to Ann Arbor, where I am still registered, and stood in a relatively short line before casting my ballot. Although I was only cautiously optimistic, the hope I have seen in the city of Detroit in the past few weeks let me feel a little excited about my vote. (I have to say, I am most definitely an Obama supporter, though I don't consider myself a Democrat.)

Little Obama-Biden signs were sprinkled along most of the on-ramps on I-94, and homemade Obama banners on bedsheets hung from footbridges overhead. High in the late afternoon sky, a sheet of Georgia O'Keefe clouds stretched out, with blue in between. My friend Ben was also in the car, voting for the first time in Ann Arbor, and the two of us couldn't help but be in a good mood. For me it was partially the joy of participating in our government, and partially the banners. I've yet to see any sort of McCain gear that didn't come out of a machine.

Many people in Detroit and the rest of Michigan see Obama as a welcome change. Although he hasn't pandered to auto companies, Detroit and the unions still support him. In my opinion, it's because Barack Obama has been a welcome dose of honesty in a region that needs it badly. Between the Engler/Granholm mess that's been left in Lansing, the Bush-Cheney deception in the White house, and the sad corruption in Detroit city government, Michigan has taken a lot of hits in the honesty department.

Besides that, the fact that those in charge still cling to a car-based economy hurts even more. The Big Three probably won't exist in the way we are used to come next year. We have suffered more than most other states, with one of the worst economies in the nation, something reflected in our biggest city more than anywhere else. So even when Obama came to the city of Detroit early in the election and told the automakers to raise fuel economy without government handouts, Michigan didn't get mad. We all knew Obama was right, and Mitt Romney was wrong. Car jobs aren't coming back. And that was before the economic crap really started hitting the fan.

My polling place, an elementary school, is used by two wards in Ann Arbor. One ward consists of 1960s subdivisions and upper middle class families. The other hugs I-94 and includes co-housing, a sizable African-American community, and some of the only real low-income housing in the city proper. The election workers kept talking about how the lower income ward was voting in record numbers. People who hadn't voted in 20 years but were on the rolls were coming in and when I heard that, I knew they weren't voting for another old white man. I cast my vote with no big issues, no malfunctions, and was on my way back to the D.

When Ben and I got back, we eventually went to a friends' house to watch the results come in. On the way over, even one of the neighborhood bums was talking about the election (albeit after asking for a cigarette).

“Now, I see you all did your duty today, but let me ask you this. Do you really, really, think it's gonna happen?”

We said we hoped so. As he walked with us and talked about bringing the power to the people, I realized that for him, nothing would change no matter who won. But at least if Obama was elected, we would have a president who cared more about telling the people what was really happening than hiding the truth and giving away taxpayer money to corporations. Not to mention, we've been overdue for a black president for a long time.

As the results came in, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment. Michigan went for Obama and so did the nation. Standing out on the porch, we could hear fireworks, celebratory gunshots, ecstatic cheers, and the city felt alive. People walking by cheered with us and the liquor store down the street was hopping. Drivers honked as they cruised by.

As we all called friends and family, I knew that I would vote in every election for the rest of my life. Because last night, people who had never voted, and people who hadn't voted in 20 years were the ones who made a difference. If nothing else, the thing I'll remember the most about last night was the feeling of hope I felt watching Obama speak, and the same feeling on the streets of Detroit. Thousands of people flooded them to celebrate, and we were back in the game. Michigan needed this one, and we got it."