Over the last few months, I have felt a strong urge, and almost responsibility, to share with my friends why the Obama campaign and presidency meant and mean so much to me. However, each time I've attempted to spill my thoughts onto a page, I've been intimidated and paralyzed by the breadth of possible approaches and the profundity of each of our experiences and motivations. The scope and gravity deterred me, and this blog has remained stale.
Scattered across various hard drives, journals, and throughout my Gmail account are snippets of reaction and inspiration from each stage in which I participated. While a tech adviser to the campaign, I detailed arms-length paragraphs of intellectual assurance and optimism. Service as a campaign surrogate triggered notes of trepidation that soon evolved to privilege and gratitude. Of course, the inauguration itself was a singularly impactful event to witness. I could, and did, draft pages of real-time reflections at each of these stages. Yet, I think the notes from my time on the road leading up to election day serve as the best illustration of my thoughts...
When my truck and I left San Francisco, my original aim was to spend some a couple of weeks driving around the Rockies interleaving time on my mountain and road bikes with campaigning for Obama in places it mattered such as Nevada and Colorado. My parents had bestowed upon my brother and me a youth hallmarked by consecutive summers in the mountains of the American West. I had sorely missed them and needed a booster inoculation of the awe and humbling context they uniquely inject. In parallel, I saw a mounting number of friends Twittering about their contributions from the trenches and their labor left me feeling like a free-rider.
Fueled by a freshly compiled road trip playlist (a lost art, I would argue), I drove straight through the night to Winnemucca, NV. The next morning, awakening at the Red Lion Casino, I did some impromptu and unofficial canvassing. The folks who spoke to the unmistakable San Franciscan likely self-selected and I enjoyed our polite banter. I will cop immediately to profiling those whom I approached as well.
After a few hours of glad-handing in greasy spoons on Winnemucca's main/only strip, I grabbed my bike and peeled off to some wonderfully isolated and meandering single track on the infamous Bloody Shins Trail. Oh, to be out of the city and unmitigatedly alone on my bike breaking trail and wrestling sage. When I got back to the parking lot, I was spent, but bursting with endorphins and assured I had made the right choice in making this trip.
I dropped back into town to grub and consider my trip's next stop. Food in my belly, and with an eye on making it to Elko that evening, I paused to fill up my tank, still wearing my favorite bike jersey and a peaceful grin that always follows a few hours on the pedals.
I didn't notice their truck when I pulled in, and couldn't describe the driver or passenger. I have no idea whether they were wearing the clothes you would stereotypically associate or playing the music our own prejudice might lead us to expect. All I can say with certainty is that as that white Ford F150 accelerated past the pump island in retreat, I was called a "nigger lover" and an empty beer can hurled at me fell limp to the concrete within a few feet of release, its depleted mass no match for the slight breeze.
As a white man from Middle America, we grow up with a very academic introduction to issues of race. We see the prescribed Oscar-nominated dramas preaching color blindness. We seek out the black kid in our school and feel exonerated when he greets us with a demonstrably soulful handshake. We are convinced that the poignant lyrics from activist hip-hop resonate with us and we grow unwaveringly confident that we understand the struggle. Yet, the privilege of our skin color does not prepare us to ever be the object of hate.