This is the end of an era.
Last night, I had to use every fiber of strength I had to hold myself together while watching the DNC, making sure to keep that first tear from falling because if I let it, that would be the end and then I’d have to watch the rest of the speech from behind blurry tears. And that’s no way to watch one of the last of President Obama’s speeches.
I was 15 when Obama won his first election. I lived in a small suburb outside of Houston, Texas and went to a high school with mostly white kids, so you can guess how glum it was for them on November 5, 2007. But the night before, staying up late and watching the states being called with my mom and dad and brother and sister — man. I will never forget that. Our neighborhood, also mostly white, was quiet that night, like every night. The only sounds in the middle of the silent darkness of our quaint, suburban cul-de-sac were the cheers and screams of my family as we swung the front door open and shouted into the night each time a state was called for Obama.
That image of him, the one news networks used for days after he won and for weeks and months later, that subtle, smirking photo — you know the one — will be etched in my mind forever.
Seeing Michelle Obama, dressed to the 9’s as usual, and the two tiny Obama girls come out on stage, supporting the man the rest of the country didn’t even know of a year ago, was incredible. Watching my parents’ faces as he spoke was inspiring. I hadn’t known a Black president in my 15 years of life, them in their 40. I could see this meant so much more to them than to me, more than I could know.
I never paid attention to politics before President Obama ran for office (and, admittedly, not too much after either) but this election was a turning point in my life, as I’m sure it was for millions of other people. My first thought when Obama won was how much I wished my grandmother was alive to see out first Black president.
“Yes we can,” said Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail.
Yes we did. After 200 years, the United States of America had a Black president. Surreal, man. Incredible. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Fast forward four years later; the re-election. I was older now, but not much wiser. A sophomore in college, I stayed up all night laughing at stupid memes and gifs on tumblr. One night, I saw a post on the Obama Tumblr (of course he had a tumblr) that said they were hiring interns to work on the campaign. Not ever having a real job before this, I figured why not toss my name in the hat? The form to fill out was easy and I distinctly remember one of the “pros” advertised in the job description was “You will be working for the President of the United States.” Well. That was definitely a pretty enticing offer.
I remember there was an option to choose three different departments to apply for and, being a journalism major, I think I chose things like marketing and communications. For my third option, I chose digital development. I honestly cannot for the life of me remember why, especially because at the time I could hardly even operate Microsoft Excel, but it was the best dumb decision I ever made.
Somehow, by the merciful grace of sweet Black baby Jesus and Beysus, my application was accepted. I had a phone interview with my future bosses, Dan Ryan, and Jeffrey Louden. Months later, after frantically searching for a place to live that could appease my parents, I was in Chicago at orientation, nervous as all hell. One of the first things Deputy Director of Frontend Web Development Kyle Rush told me was something along the lines of “you will be building websites that handle millions of dollars in contributions, so they have to be perfect.”
I immediately asked Kyle if I could switch departments.
I was scared out of my wits, y’all. I was way way in over my head. I cried the first night I was in Chicago because I was so scared that I would make a huge embarrassment of myself and ruin everything. I didn’t even know how Minesweeper worked (I still don’t know how Minesweeper works). How was I supposed to build fully functional websites for a national presidential campaign? It was definitely the most nerve wracking, panic attack-inducing week of my life.
I tend to give up way too easily. I throw in the towel the minute things start looking rough. But I couldn’t give this up. This chance would never come again. Never in the history of the world would I be able to work on the re-election campaign for America’s first Black president. This wasn’t something I could let get the best of me.
I wiped my tears, I grit my teeth, and I woke up at 5:30 every morning to take a train and two buses downtown to Obama for America HQ in the Prudential building, Beyoncé playlist in tow, to work my ass off and make sure that our first Black president was re-elected. I messed up a million times and asked a million and one questions. As part of the internship program, I cold called hundreds of random people living in Colorado (shoutout to #TeamCO) asking them to donate to the campaign or attend events in their area. As part of President Obama’s personal task for us, I volunteered at South Side Pantry, the same food bank he volunteered at, and I learned so much about what it means to give back.
I cried with my fellow interns and the dev team when we lost Alex Okrent. I lost my mind when First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden came to visit us. I went to every after hours forum and discussion and info session that I could, because when would I ever be able to experience this again in my life?
I made friends I’ll have forever. I gained skills I never dreamed I would have. I helped re-elect our record-breaking, award-winning 44th president with one of the most amazing, groundbreaking, historic campaigns in the history of this nation.
I can’t even begin to tell you how good that felt.
And in the blink of an eye, four more years later, here we are. I didn’t used to understand when my parents would talk to me about how fast time moves but man, it really does fly.
In the midst of the worst election season in the history of humankind, I’d forgotten all the good things that President Obama wrought. It’s been devastating and disappointing as hell to turn on the news or get on Twitter and see what new ridiculous thing we have to deal with. The never ending cyclical echo chamber of bigotry and corruption and fear-mongering and hate is too much. My heart has been made heavy for so many different things and at such an alarmingly high frequency these days that it’s easy to forget about the good stuff.
But last night, President Obama reminded me about all the good stuff in a way only he could. The smoothest orator, the most skillful speaker, in the sharpest of suits, with the most natural stage presence, and with such an incredibly powerful and calming disposition; there will never be another like him. Watching President Obama take command of a stage as he speaks is something none of us should ever, ever take for granted.
I am in awe of this man every time he speaks to us. I held it together for the duration of his speech, knowing that if started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop crying for days after. I couldn’t look at the screen too long without feeling that tight feeling in my chest, so I’m so glad Twitter was there to lighten the mood at times so I didn’t get too caught up in my feelings. I geeked out with my former Obama for America friends about his “used the Internet in amazing new ways that I didn’t really understand, but made change happen” because, let’s face it, he was talking about us.
It’s so easy to roll your eyes when people speak so wistfully about our great nation; the truth is a lot less sugar coated than that. But regardless of your views on the depravity of this country, it is hard to not feel a tiny thump of patriotism when President Obama speaks so candidly and genuinely about this land of opportunity. To hear him talk about how much faith he has, and how much he loves America, and how grateful he is that he can work with us to try and make this a more perfect union; it’s indescribable.
I know President Obama isn’t a perfect person, and I disagree with many things he’s said and done, and I understand the disappointment people have with him and the disillusionment they have toward the democratic system. I get it; I know the system is broken and I’m just as jaded about politics as the next person. But nothing can stop the love I have for our president. I’ve had my fair share of disappointment in him, and I’ve been upset with plenty of things he’s done. I doubt I’ll ever agree 100% with any president, or person for that matter.
President Obama is an amazing human being. The love he has for the betterment of this country and its people is astonishing. How he can look at this country and still have so much faith and hope and conviction is inspiring to me. Eight years of being caricatured, disrespected, blockaded, bullied, the victim of never-ending hatred and racism, and he still has that ultra cool resolve that allows him to see the best in the country that tries so hard to make him fall. It could’ve been so easy for us to break him, but he’s stronger than that.
Eight years has come and gone and soon Obama will have to leave the White House (and pass the POTUS @ on as well, unfortunately). He did what he said he would. Unemployment is down. Consumer confidence is up. Universal healthcare is a thing. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell isn’t. He passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, saved the auto industry, reformed student loan programs, appointed professional badass Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, and ended the war in Iraq. And despite the uphill battle that being the US’s first Black president came with, despite the ugliness he was dealt on a daily basis, he did all of these things with a resilient composure and outstanding grace.
I’m proud to have worked for the greatest president this country has ever seen. I’m proud of his accomplishments, his audacity of hope. I will miss him immensely, and I hope I’m lucky enough to see another president that’s even half as smooth, inspiring, encouraging, brilliant, composed, graceful, courageous, incredible as President Barack Obama has been.
I’m fired up. But, I’m not quite ready to see him go.