Four years ago on Election Night, I was in Washington, D.C. watching the election votes be quickly tallied up and the election handed to Barack Obama. I was at an election night party hosted by the Human Rights Campaign at the Capitol City Brewing Company, an overpriced brew pub that used to be located right by the Capitol in the same building as the National Capitol Post Office.
Predictably, this viewing party, thrown by the nation’s largest LGBT rights organization, became an episode of The L Word before Obama was even officially declared winner. I was at the viewing with a friend I had dated for a while and she was trying to introduce me to one of her friends, a coworker with whom she also had previously had a strange romance with as well. As I sat there with her and the HRC interns, glued to the returns on the large T.V. screen, a woman for whom I had lost most of my heart to walked in hand-in-hand with her ex-girlfriend.
(I had lost my mind trying to comprehend her interest in me when I first met her. I stopped sleeping for a few weeks. Every night I would lie awake in the dark and stare straight ahead at my map of the United States while my mind hummed along.)
I had watched some presidential debates between Obama and McCain at a tiny bar on Pennsylvania Avenue with the HRC interns and my friend. I pretended to smoke cigarettes back then and would slip out to take a puff, become woozy, and then let the ember burn while I stalked around the listless avenue muttering poetry I made up about the city’s power; power, I imagined, churned through roundabouts and pulled us all in. I got tipsy too quickly one night and ran down the Metro escalator, slipped, fell down on the teeth of the steps and broke open the skin on my left elbow.
I love the scar that this fall imprinted on me. The skin was so soft and doll-like before I fell; in its tender way, the scar weathered me.
On the walk back to the Union Station Metro, we passed a drunk man saluting all who passed by with his full erection. He kind of swung it slowly from side to side like a flipper and we didn’t see him until he was ten feet away. My friend said, “Dear God, that’s traumatizing.”
Politics: You can’t make this shit up. The insanity of the 2008 election cycle seemed an appropriate symbol of the madness of navigating my early twenties; Obama’s historic acceptance speech and the solemn inauguration seemed a benediction. I hoped that January 2009 would bring with it a letting go of our childish things. After that election cycle (and the idiotic pantomime of the Tea Party’s march on Washington in September, 2009), I tried to tune out the madness. I moved back to Oregon and went into another rabbit hole. I read a lot and didn’t date. Then, after the attack on Gabby Giffords in 2011, I felt that the stakes had been raised for women once more.
Juliana, my friend from high school, texted me about an hour after I had moped home from the 2008 election night party. She wrote something about dancing in the street and banging pots and pans. The next day, I watched the videos. In the picture below, you can see the ecstatic expression on her and her roommate, Meredith’s, faces.
These young women both worked (and lived in) a D.C. shelter for H.I.V.-positive women called Miriam’s House (later incorporated in N Street Village), which was situated in the historically African-American neighborhood of U Street. The crowd dancing on gentrifying U Street was different on November 4, 2008. The neighbors—those who could still afford to live there, anyway—rushed from their homes up on Florida Avenue or from V Street. This video shows the entire neighborhood’s elation and joy over Obama becoming President (skip ahead to minute 4:40 when they call the election).
I try to talk about one night four years ago and the cast of characters is as webbed-up as Alice Pieszecki’s infamous chart. I was a different woman four years ago and oddly terrified of being in the company of the same person for many hours at a time. I think I only breathed freely when alone in my attic room in Northwest D.C.
Here in Portland, I see the beginnings of bravery in my own life and the women around me. I write for two female editors at the Portland State newspaper, my publishing program at Portland State is probably 90 percent women, and I would be incredibly paranoid to fancy a patriarchy among my sweet colleagues at work. Take the small victories and keep pressing for the big one. We’re young writers, hungry, and in ten or twenty years we’ll have a better chance at inhabiting positions of power within the media than ever before. So for now, we write, we e-publish, we pitch stories we probably shouldn’t, and we vote for Democrats.