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America’s Choosing Day

America wakes tomorrow to a landscape created by its people. It is a landscape that has been tended over the days, hours and minutes of the last two years by the door-knockers, phone-callers and canvassers, the cake-bakers, the sandwich makers, the lemonade sellers. It is a landscape awash with the work of women and children and men. Out of the ashes of self-loathing and despair that characterized this last decade, despite the obvious drawbacks of his full name, and his dogged determination to claim every part of his personal heritage, from American to Kenya to Indonesia, Barack Hussein Obama built a ground operation that is unparalleled in the history of this country. Never has there been a campaign run so evenly at the top while its foundation, the people who constitute its base, was allowed to, in short, go forth and multiply.

They are mostly small stories, but they were almost always stories of sacrifice, the kind that hurt the individual, the ordinary person, but that, taken together, create the glittering threads out of which history is spun. They are the stories of the ordinary people out of whose lives and actions, citizenship is defined. Sixty workers in Indiana gave up a days pay and risked losing their minimum-wage jobs rather than make incendiary calls about Obama. Taxi drivers in Maine donated their cars to take voters to the polls. A babysitting service in one of Philadelphia's low-income neighborhoods donated their care to help families get through election day.

As I stepped out this afternoon, I met a man ambling along my street, clipboard and leaflets in hand, systematically going up to house, checking the resident off his list, hanging his flyer on their door knob. This was after polling had begun. My neighbor was on hand to watch the polls as a legal authority. The Obama office on Main Street, close by, was filled even yesterday with calm, soft spoken volunteers bringing in food for other volunteers, checking each other in, picking up their lists of phone numbers and sitting down to make calls either on their own cell phones or on borrowed ones, or gathering up sheafs of leaflets and clipboards and heading out into the streets. That office was opened just a week ago, at a time when a different sort of candidate would be beginning to shut things down. Obama has consistently refused to take anything for granted. Certainly not his supporters. This evening, at 5:50pm, there was an email reminding me that polls had not yet closed in Virginia and could I please make a few more calls? I, like hundreds of thousands of other volunteers, did. I clicked a button, was given my list and began making my calls and recording the responses, counting down the time left until that particular person could vote, and telling them exactly where they needed to go to do so.

There was a script, as there was at the campaign office downtown, but it was simply a guideline. The words were mine. They were ours. They were the words of African Americans for Obama, Mothers for Obama, Pennsylvanians for Obama, Writers for Obama, Kids for Obama, yes, also, Sri Lankans for Obama. They were the words of people who had decided to speak up and speak out, loud against the usual American nicety of keeping politics to ourselves. Not this time.


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Today, my daughters dressed with particular care as they got ready to accompany me to the polls. They walked into the polling station with me, signed in with me, and huddled behind the curtain with me. They watched me select Barack Obama/Joe Biden for President and Vice President of the United States. They, aged 12, 7 and 5, took turns selecting some of the rest of the candidates for State legislators. Then we walked back home, hailing everybody we knew, checking in, asking if people had voted. Every person, every check out counter clerk, every banker, every meat slicer, every teacher, every doughnut bagger, answered with an enthusiastic affirmative.

Nearly a hundred years ago, the American people's poet, Walt Whitman, wrote these words in honor of the political process of his country:

"If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara--nor you, ye limitless prairies--nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite--nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones--nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes--nor
Mississippi's stream:
--This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name--the still
small voice vibrating--America's choosing day..."

Today, Barack Obama and the passionate engagement he drew from the people he will now lead, gave proof to those words. Yes we did.

Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman

Ru Freeman's creative and political writing has appeared internationally. She is the author of the novels A Disobedient Girl (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and On Sal Mal Lane (Graywolf, 2013), a New York Times Editor's Choice. Both novels have been translated into several languages including Italian, French, Hebrew, and Chinese. She blogs on literature and politics, is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review, and has been a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the 2014 winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for Fiction by an American Woman.

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