Four years ago today I was in Virginia, USA. I was on holiday in the States on my own, staying with one of my closest friends and her kids. In the days running up to the election the energy, momentum, hope and excitement were palpable. You could feel it, get drawn into it, in fact you could almost smell it; wherever you went, on the subway, wandering the streets, in the museums, on the bus, there was an over-riding sense of optimism and potential in the air.
(cc) Photo by farmgalphotos on flickr
For someone who derives considerable personal motivation from a belief in what is possible, not just the reality one finds oneself in, this was quite some experience.
I knew the election was due to happen when I was on holiday, in fact it had influenced my decision to travel at that time, but I hadn’t expected to get so drawn into it. Which was ridiculous with hindsight, the Obama campaign was so strong, had so many unique elements, was so engaged at a grass routes level, it heavily relied on social media so I was probably more exposed to it than I was anticipating, but it also drew me in because it was so positive. So full of hope.
On election day I went for lunch with my mate and a few of her work colleagues, having grown up not really discussing religion or politics with people you didn’t know well, it was a great lunch chat. There were a mixed group and boy did they get into the conversation. Young children and no babysitters on such a momentous night meant no all nighter down the pub for us but we took up residence on Sarah’s sofa and settled down for an evening viewing the show. And what a show it was.
The day after the election I caught the subway into DC and wandered the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and drinking coffee and chatting with people. What a day, everyone I came into contact with was in a good mood, there was a heady air of optimism, of belief and hope. Like the first day of a new school term, where everyone wants to be there and there’s a strong belief in what great things lie ahead. Strangers were wishing each other good day in the street, coffee shops were buzzing and as a tourist it was a great day, as a complete stranger who was leaving shortly I still felt a part of it. I’d witnessed this historic change and, if I’m honest, I’d got caught up in the gulf stream of hope and optimism.
Fast forward four years and Obama is looking tired. His enthusiasm is muted, no less sincere, but lets just say he’s now more older Statesman than youthful Tigger.
Not that I can talk, I’m feeling tired, bone tired and my belief in hope and optimism (as a personal or professional strategy) has been sorely tested of late. Life seems more monochrome, more challenging, more about survival than hope. I take some comfort from knowing that doing good isn’t easy and finding your path in life is a journey, not a single simple decision; it’s more complicated than simply ticking a box on a ballot sheet.
…The truth is that, in order to make progress, you need to physically and mentally fight against the momentum of ordinary events. The default state of any new idea is failure. It’s the execution–the fight against inertia–that matters. You have to remember to go against your instinct, to confront the ordinary, and to put up a fight.
As America goes to the polls, I am settling down for my third night at my parent’s house with the Bobby monitor, not knowing what might happen, politically or personally.
The soup of anticipation, anxiety and hope is bubbling and while there are no guarantees of what the next four years hold, I for one am digging deep to recapture the potential that shone so brightly four years ago, to remember and relive the hope that was, to fight against the momentum of ordinary and unearth something special. I hope America does too.