Sometime in 1984 my mother and I were walking along St. Johns Place between Washington and Underhill when I popped a big question for a seven year old.
"Mommy," I asked, "what is the difference between Democrat and Republican?"
She gave me two answers and they both related to our present condition at the time. We were living in the early or mid stage crack era. Our schoolyard, down by the Navy Yard was littered with crack vials and there were whole buildings where residents were under siege from well organized drug cartels. Brooklyn was broken down and battered and just starting its long recovery from the mass exodus of the 1970's where 4 of my mother's siblings moved away and would never come back permanently. We heard gunshots almost every night and the era of random gunfire blasting through and killing innocent children was not far off. Back then the subways were places where you avoided eye contact and no one read for fear of losing sight of who was around you - my dad would play a game with us where we had to guess what people were thinking, he was teaching us to be vigilant and observant - and you never, under any circumstances sat in the last or first cars.
Although my father was very much involved in our life my parents were not married at the time. We lived with our mother.
Given all that my mother said the following:
"Republicans want things to stay the same, Democrats want things to change"
When I asked her about Ronald Reagan, a man who under current standards would be a moderate Republican, she said, "Reagan thinks that we are poor."
The idea that we were poor had never occurred to me. Sure we did not have a lot of money but we had lots of love, friends, always had food, our house was clean and we always had clothes and shoes. On the weekends we were in Queens with our dad, cousins and enjoyed playing in the park and running around the neighborhood.
My mother basically shared that, in politics, people are lumped into groups and assumptions are made. I know this well, I am a political scientist and I make assumptions about people every day. Back then I was a child and the only assumptions I made was that I deserved love and a safe place to live and despite all the reality, I felt safe and loved.
However, I did want change. I did not want to always see such misery in my community but I also wanted to see a community stay intact. I voted for Mondale in my elementary school election, then Dukakis in 1988, and Clinton in 1992. By the time came to cast my own ballot in 1996 I voted for Clinton. As an adult, in 2000 living in Boston, MA i made a bold step of voting for Winona LaDuke because she said, "we need to renegotiate our relationship with the earth" at a campaign rally for the Green Party at the old Boston Garden. In 2008 I voted against Sarah Palin, although by this time I was not duped into the hope and change message - I truly wanted to see a black man finally get in office. Now, today, I enter election day and that definition of Democrat and Republican that my mother shared with me on a chilly autumn day in Prospect Heights still rings true.
As I write this my son sleeps nearby. He woke up a little bit ago and I had to soothe and calm him back to sleep. I love him and want him to see that anything is possible and that there already is a black president when he is five and able to start asking me questions about politics. THAT is change I can believe in. Frankly, I want what he does to be greater than just being the president - and I do not define greateness by power but what one does with this power.
Mitt Romney is a chameleon that wants things to stay the same. He wants to make sure that rich people do not pay taxes, hoard their wealth, and that poor people stay running in place. Obama wants this to change and he talks long term about infrastructure and the environment. Neither of them are perfect and the election in and of itself is a form of mass deception and theater. Nonetheless, I am pulling for Barack Obama to remain the President of the United States. I hope you do the same.