Dear Mr. President,
My throat hurts and I haven't slept for more than fifteen minutes in a row in almost two days. At 4:30 this morning my friend Casi and I boarded a city bus toward the U-district and gleefully informed the driver we were going to see the President. He laughed and told every passenger that he picked up after us that we'd be the first girls in line.
We were not the first in line. Defying cold and campus security, several dozen others were already waiting when we arrived. We huddled together and tried to sleep on the cold sidewalk but we were shivering too hard. We talked to one another, to the strangers ahead of us and behind us in line, about the rules, about the cold, about nothing coherent at all. We became B-roll. We were joined by other friends, we waited in the only open cafe for warm drinks paid for and abandoned before we could drink them when, unexpectedly, the line began to move forward. We waited longer, bemoaning the lost beverages and looking enviously at the the red-ticketed VIP line and, yes, even the ADA line. It was cold. We were tired. We had driven all night long to get back in time.
FInally the line moved inside. By the thousands we came inside, to the heat, to the light, to the comfortable seats. Volunteers herded us, heedless of our desire to sit together, asking only "can you stand for 4 hours?" We exchanged looks. On a good day? No problem. On no sleep in aching feet and still shivering? We took our seats in the stands, happy to settle in an unobstructed view of the podium. I folded myself in half, curling into a stadium seat to try and sleep a few more minutes. No such luck. The choice between making the whole exhausted row stand up to leave through the non-VIP exit to the bathroom or arguing with the indignant volunteers at the VIP door seemed hard at first, and then, no choice at all. A gospel choir took the task of warming up the cold, exhausted crowd. God Bless America. Beautiful words and voices made up for my usual discomfort with religion. We sang, we started the wave and the enthusiasm rolled around the crowd for more laps than any baseball game.
On stage, a series of successively more powerful leaders took to the podium and said the same things. Excessive references to Husky football victories (stretching back decades to justify the pluralization) made me wonder if Congressman Inslee believes college kids think of the whole world as a football game or if he does. Gradually, our governor and senior senator restored the gravitas we expected, reminding us how far women in our country have come and how well women in our state have done by comparison. The secret service took the stage to check the podium, their earpieces identical to the one I wear for work. We knew what came next.
My voice was already sore, but you took the stage and we didn't stop screaming for seven minutes. I've never been in the same room as the a President, before, and there you were, walking across the stage with Senator Murray's head bobbing just below your shoulder despite the help of 3-inch heels. I have written you every day for 293 days and, though you do not know that one of the fifteen-thousand voices is mine, I believe that when you look my way and wave, you see me. Every one in the auditorium believes that they are seen. You are seeing one shimmering swell of enthusiasm that will bridge any gap. It does not matter that we waited in the cold, or that attendance meant skipping the third day of classes in a row for some of us (classes we can by no means afford to miss; the price of free admission.) We are points of light too small for you to perceive the distances between us, the gaps that define us and make us individual bulbs. We are one bright shine, a stadium full of sound and waiving hands and the consuming emotion of the moment.
They said we can't elect a black man with a funny name. You shouted.
Oh, yes, we can. We shouted back.
And we kept our feet, we kept our voices raised and our hands clapping until my palms were purple and my throat was raw with the damage of sheer sound. Cameras flashed, hands of the lucky red-ticketed VIP were shaken, and, delirious with joy, I wanted to hug Reggie as he collected letters and gifts of goodwill. Elated, we tumble outside, a crowd no longer, and walk home, walking that path from the University to Capitol Hill, the same streets we flooded on election night two years ago, the same joy, the same calls from neighbors and perfect strangers asking for our account of your words.
A shift at work later, still sleepless, I am sobered by exhaustion and the return to my routine. Check in on my secret-service earpiece with the rest of the team. Blend in. Be quiet. Look for thieves. One foot in front of the other; tech center, fiction, main floor, basement. Repeat another staircase with the help of another Americano. It hurts to speak. It hurts to breathe. I have barely slept, I have homework due in less than 12 hours, and I can't afford to miss another class all quarter long. Casi has another 100-mile drive home.
And all we can keep saying to each other, to any one who asks, to ourselves is the same thing; it was worth it. I'd do it again. Let's do it tomorrow. Tangle traffic on Montlake and bring the commute to a halt. Re-assemble the metal detectors and get the secret service dogs back on their leads. I would do it all over again, to hear you speak. Even just to hear, again, the same old car metaphor, with the ditch and the mud and the keys. When you want to go forward, you put it in D.
I might be crazy and half-dead with joy and exhaustion, but you will have my ballot and you will have my vote and if I can help it, you and Senator Murray will have six more years and Seattle will have more happy floods in the streets.
Six more years sounds great to me.