On November fifth, 2008, the morning after Barack Obama became president-elect, I worked the early shift at work. It was the sunrise shift — ungodly early — but one that bore metaphorical significance at least. New day, new president. New Era.
I was the first to clock in that day, moving slow when swiping my time card. An unfortunate schedule had me arriving to work while still floating on vapors. Revelry of the night prior had its share of champagne bubbles, but also the otherwise — and perhaps more intoxicating– effervescence of a new ideology recently secured. We were drunk on lightness. The Bush years had been dark. So much time spent in protest of regress and false wars and economic mishandling.
My boss was the second to clock in. Our eyes matched in their particular purple and it didn’t seem appropriate to jump straightaway into work. We work next to water, so we decided to walk a few paces away from the building and take in the sunrise, standing cross-armed over the bay. The scoters hadn’t arrived yet — December marking their usual migration — but the water was graced with a few buffleheads, also the dumb bobbing of pelicans with their ungainly noses and forever downturned faces.
The night prior, I had been at the Civic Center with some colleagues to watch the election results live on the assorted big screens. My wife and I were new parents, just one year in, and my son was resolutely strapped to my wife’s chest in anticipation of the final call. It came earlier than expected, as the media charts displayed what seemed a geopolitical game of Othello, red states ahistorically flipping blue, Barack Obama becoming president. The results were announced just as my one-year old was nodding off in the Bjorn, and the uproar was enough to jolt him from sleep. I hugged my friends, I hugged my wife, I kissed my kid on the head.
I shared this story with my boss as we looked out over the water. The sun was just coming up and the real estate across the bay, all its assorted and differently angled glass, was catching the sun from dissimilar directions. Some windows were orange, others still slate.
My boss had a sad expression.
(Prop 8 had passed on Election Night also. This was the night’s big loss. A California Supreme Court decision had allowed same-sex couples to legally marry within the state, a stunning display of progress with precedent in Massachusetts. But the hate-machine, with white picket fences like teeth and a full set of evangelical canines, bullied the decision’s reversal.
I went to a same-sex wedding in 2007 for the lawyer that helped influence the California Supreme Court’s decision, and state senator Toni Atkins was the officiator. My boss: She got married to the love of her life, too, a woman, and on November 5th found herself — like my lawyer friend — in this wary place somewhere between legality and illegality.
“I was at the grocery store last night, Thom. Well — I’ll tell you: I was buying champagne. I was buying champagne because of the election. And then Prop 8 got voted in.”
(And there is certainly a time when a drink can go from celebration to solace).
The sun had gone from pink to orange, and brants were now accompanying the buffies in the water.
“How,” she asked, “How, Thom, in this day and age — and in our country — can we vote for something that specifically says it’s an amendment ‘to eliminate the rights’ of a group of people? I don’t get it.”
Where the champagne goes flat, and ideology feels less effervescent. Where Rosa Parks gets ordered again to sit at the back of the bus.
The Obama administration had its eight years following that particular sunrise, and — much like that sunrise — had its ambivalences. There was the (perhaps reluctant) continuance of the Bush Doctrine, the drone attacks, the strangely Machiavellian crackdown on whistle-blowers, the brown-shirt flirtation with martial suspension of habeas corpus. But there was also the ACA, the turnaround of the 2008 recession, the de-escalation of Middle-East conflict, an unprecedented rise in employment, the legalization of same-sex marriage. There was progress, which we voted for under the one-word campaign promise of ‘hope’. There was light after eight years of inarguable bleakness. That the scales tipped heavier to progress and not regress showed we as an electorate were willing to trend forward, even as an obstructionist Congress tried its best to speed the rust with regard to the machinations of law.
This gives me hope in a post-Obama nation.
But on January 20th, and when again I am scheduled an early shift, and next to water, I am worried about the forecast. It’s slated to rain and I don’t think there’ll be much of a sunrise as the migratory birds sit in their puddles of gray. How often will the presidential orders following that morning be rife with the language, “to eliminate the rights, to eliminate the rights, and to eliminate the rights.”