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thought i was a donut, ya tried to glaze me

11.05.2008

YES WE CAN


Gerald Sullivan started campaigning for 20-year incumbent Audrey Pfeffer's State Assembly seat months ago. His signs--those sharing space with McCain and Palin, and those simply showing his last name, in that "Country First" font--started sprouting up all over my town in September (no Rockawayite wants to focus on politics in the summer). His platform was based on his belief that Rockaway and it's surrounding parts in Southeast Queens needed a change in leadership.

I ran into Sullivan once as he campaigned outside of Waldbaums. He handed me his pamphlet, all red and white and blue with American pride, emblazoned with an eagle and his core beliefs. I'd heard he was campaigning up at church every Sunday, waiting for people as they walked out the door, telling them he'd get rid of abortion if they voted for him. A very ambitious claim, I'd say, specifically tailored towards those strict Catholics who vote on one issue: abortion. For the first time in a long time I regreted not going to church, just for the opportunity to ask how he intended to overturn a Supreme Court ruling. I would have loved to debate with him on the St. Francis steps, asking him the hard questions as my mother pulled me away.

In last week's Pointer, Breezy Point's local newspaper, Sullivan put out an ad that stated "Vote For One Of Us." And therein lies the belief of so many of my neighbors, from where I stand on the peninsula to the tiny western tip. For every race in this election, it wasn't about who was the better candidate--it was simply a matter of Us vs. Them. I'd seen it in all the "jokes", in photos printed out from e-mail forwards and tacked behind bars. Once the race for the White House really got going, people's real fears and beliefs started coming out. They believed anything they heard about Barack Obama as long as it was negative, refusing to think rationally or sensibly. It was simply White vs. Black, masked as concerns over higher taxes or his "terrorist" ties (only in Rockaway could "socialist" became another word for "black guy", as in "I can't vote for him, he's a socialist!"). I honestly didn't think Rockaway could be this bad. I actually thought better of it. The people I've seen and heard from have changed that for me, and have made me even more certain of what fear and hate-mongering can do to people.

And now let me say this: I am 2nd and 3rd generation American, the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants from Ireland and Italy. My Grandma Honie left County Louth at 17 to come to a country she only saw in pictures. She landed the day after Charles Lindburgh made his cross-Atlantic flight and always thought his trip overshadowed her own, certain hers was more important. Years after the Know-Nothing Party and "Irish Need Not Apply" signs sprout up all over New York City, she still had one thing standing in her way of getting a job and starting her life--her Irish brogue. So she ditched it. And just like that, she became an American. She worked with Germans and Poles and Italians and learned how to cook, and raised her family in what is now the most diverse place in the entire world. I often think what it meant for her to have to change the way she spoke. Was she thankful that it was all she had to do to blend in a little better? Thankful that, unlike some people who are seen as outsiders based on skin color, all it took was to change the way she spoke? I'm sure the people who live around me have similiar stories from their family tree, and this is what strikes me: how quickly they forget the way Americans have treated each other since this land became official. How quickly they can undermine the hard work and dedication of somebody just because he's black, and how they can write somebody off based solely on that. Maybe they didn't see what I saw on Election Night, once I heard while working at the AP of the states Obama had won--first Virginia, then Oregon, then OH MY GOD HE DID IT. Yes, we did it. We made history, we broke down barriers, we finally fulfilled the claims made by our Founding Fathers. We made good on promises to everyone who came here from someplace else, no matter how long ago. We showed the world we're actually as good as we say, something that seemed empty in the past eight years. I may not feel it as much as some, but still, it's there, at the core of what I believe: this is America the Great, America the Beautiful, America the Land of Opportunity. My Grandmother was right when she said her trip was more important than Lindburgh's. It continues to be more important now, in the days since we've elected Barack Obama.

Many people came here seeking two things: hope and change. Here you go. I'm happy that I was a part of it, and only wish my neighbors could feel the same.


[note: Gerald Sullivan lost 67%-33%]

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I wonder if my writing has even improved?