It's become our quadrennial ritual; election day dawns, cold and bright here in the City of New York, the coffee bubbles in its pot, the towers across the East River glittering in the rosy light of the young sun. It's that day again, when me and the boyfriend bundle ourselves up against the November chill and make the short walk across the park, past the monument to the dead of some forgotten war, and step into the warm comfort of the polling site.
And it is comforting. The volunteers are still cheerful, with hours of patient work ahead of them; the neighbors, people you might see at the grocery store or just rush by on your way to the subway, are there too, and all on a common purpose: to make our voices heard, render judgment on the last four years and help choose who will govern in our name in the next four. Across this sprawling city and throughout the vast land beyond, millions of others prepare to do the very same thing, to speak out and claim their voice in our common future.
Government of the people, by the people, for the people, this is what it looks like. In that musty warm room, all are equal; race, gender, faith, age, wealth, sexual preference, ethnicity, national origin, don't matter. It's a brief moment, mundane perhaps, but majestic in its simplicity. This is the one day when all Americans come together and do the very same thing, all distinctions among us leveled and regardless of our outlook or partisan allegiances, because we choose to believe in the idea of us. This idea of us, of We The People, no matter where we come from, what we believe, look like or who we are, being free to shape our future, our common hopes and dreams, is what makes America unique, not just another spot on a map with a flag and a theme song. E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.
And it's because of that idea of us, of we, that I marked my ballot for Barack Obama.
Yes, I could rattle off, and frequently have, the laundry list of achievements of this President, the untold deficiencies of his opponent, or elaborate the cold calculus of power that hinges on today's outcome. No question, all of those things matter, some more than others.
But ultimately, I vote with my heart, not just with my head. I suspect many others feel the same way.
My head tells me that gay Americans like yours truly have never had a better President. My heart, however, thrills to finally having a seat at the table of brotherhood. Others – women, people of color, immigrants, the young – I know feel much the same, each in our own way and now, no less welcome at the same table. Turns out there's room for all of us.
Logic tells me that this country, my country, our country, is digging itself out of a deep hole and has a distance to travel before it is made whole again, if it ever was. Emotionally, I remember the day I stepped off that plane from Europe as a young man and started crying at the overwhelming fact of finally being home again. "Welcome home", said the young woman at Customs. A simple word, 'home', but it means so much in all its imperfections. At the time, 'home' was roiled over the profound question of whether or not a blow job constitutes sex and hence, an impeachable offense; and the World Trade Center still stood, proud, gleaming, invulnerable and defiant, at the tip of Manhattan.
Ten years later, I was in the stadium at Denver when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. Maybe you were there too, and remember the sheer messy glory of it; men, women, young, old, black, white and every shade in between, gays and straights, veterans and civilians, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants, the best of America in full flower. The very people Barack Obama governs for.
It's been a tumultuous four years since, without question. The economy cratered and has yet to fully recover; the Iraq War is over; Osama bin Laden is enjoying his seventy-odd virgins; and we've been introduced yet again to something dark in the national psyche, the John Birch society ingeniously rebranded as the tea party. Here be monsters.
But are we moving towards a 'more perfect union'? Yes. And it's because of Barack Obama, that skinny kid with the funny name who had the audacity to hope, to trust this imperfect nation to be better than we thought we were.
My head tells me that our union will never be perfect. Nothing built out of mortal clay ever can be. But my heart says that we, this grand, glorious, sloppy and bloody E Pluribus Unum can never stop working against all odds to try and make it so. That this work, this unceasing hope for our future and belief that we can make a better nation, is the bedrock of who we are as a people, not bound by blood, but by hope.
That's why President Obama got my vote. I choose us. And yes, I still believe in hope.