Monday, 19 January 2009


I can mostly remember how I felt when I first heard Barack Obama speak because I remember how different it was from everything else then. Basics: I was sitting in a conference room at the New York Sun in the summer of 2004. That was a hot summer, summer of love, of confusion, unknowns, before a senior year of college that had already begun to burn with bright blankness. The summer that I had already spent half in London, mostly alone and feeling sheepish about being an American abroad, baffled and disappointed by the enterprise of journalism, by the shrinking of newspapers, the shrinking of certain ambitions. It was also the summer that I would also spend, as if in another lifetime, making new friends and loves, mapping Manhattan again for the first time, peeking at the city from rooftops, bridges, from low-slung Soho restaurants, from sweaty clubs, from close ups of faces, from mechanical rush hour subway rides and the edge of a still gaping hole in Lower Manhattan, the edge of an adolescence nearly over and an adulthood that would equal a sum, or add on more, of what I couldn't tell but skirted around in the hopes of getting a glimpse or venturing a guess. The summer as a fast-forwarded life, from the expansiveness of going abroad to dreary tabloid fonts on the Underground, emerging from the jazz rhythms of the 6 train stopping short downtown, from the possibilities of lower east side walkups to an end of summer countdown, told in colored alerts and alarming swift boat campaigns and the promise of a Bosch-like cataclysm around Madison Square Garden, just where I one day thought the world might end, but this time the Knicks were nowhere to be seen. If I was wondering about careers, about my idealism, part of me was also being smacked around: A summer of remembering the trifling days and ways of electioneering, scouring the streets reporting on the chaotic, begrieved sidelines of the GOP convention, a moment of nonsense and fear. 

I saw people getting thrown on the sidewalk, and police afraid, people searching for reasons to fight and tied up by police and lined up in the sweltering night. 

One night, I went to a party at Rockefeller Center, thrown by Senator Bill Frist, to celebrate the end of the convention and raise money for charities fighting AIDS in Africa (many of them evangelical Christian ones). Bono was there. He spoke about strange alliances in spite of parties, strange bedfellows, the better angels of our nature perhaps, and in the crowd, amidst the young blonde congressmen and gowns and glasses of rum, I heard two men who were bankers laugh at the Irish rock star under their breath.

When at last I, dressed in a tweed blazer and red pants, clutching my recorder, moved in to ask Bill Frist a question (about Bono, about medicine, about Africa, though I didn't know about this), I was very nearly tackled by the Secret Service. "It's okay, he's okay," said Frist. I forgot what I asked him, because he didn't really answer anything.

Cut back to that room. He says things about an America that could be one, and it sounds so hopeful and beautiful that I think I suspected then how removed my own wishes are from the siren-blaring New York all around me.

China, 2008. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold when people want things they know they deserve.

Philadelphia, 2008. Let America be America again.

Chicago, 2008. Let America be America again, again.

The room again, 2004. But the politics of the improbable, of the prophetic, of potential, is the politics of a country built on a revolution and a daring piece of paper and a thousand symbols, punched through, waved wildly, torn up, and again reread, with feeling, means.

No comments:

Post a Comment