by Rachel Dykoski • 11/14/08 • My daughters sat on my lap as the Obamas took the stage to thousands cheering in Grant Park.
Most people think my dogged passion for democracy, warts and all for the past ten months was ego-tripping. Myself included. I was eight months pregnant with my first child when Bush v. Gore took place. Heck, I walked through a snowstorm, uphill and down again to vote in 2000. I listened to the news 24/7 while I nested and made meals for the freezer, though I knew we wouldn’t eat them. I surfed the web in the kitchen of our Saint Louis Park home, following the stories of voter suppression, redlining people of color, and I couldn’t shake the tone of Katherine Lanpher’s voice out my dreams. She sounded pissed off, but I couldn’t find the factual puzzle pieces and make them fit together in a solid story. I was too old, too bloated, too exhausted, and too new to motherhood to try and do something for the people in Florida.
By 2004, I had two toddlers and was dealing with all kinds of mayhem in my own life. I was an at-home mom diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I had moved to Minneapolis and lived with roommates. My life was kitty-wampus and I had no time to care about democracy. Hard to believe that 20 years prior I was dreaming with familial adults about a Jesse Jackson presidency. We knew our congressional representative and could rattle off the names of state and US senators, back then. By my thirties and John Kerry’s candidacy, the only name I held onto was Senator Paul Wellstone. He had a fire in the belly and mother wit that personified my political ideals and galvanized the interests of thousands. He was Minnesota to me. And he was gone. The only time I made that year was getting out the vote in my neighborhood with a nonpartisan group. The girlies and me walked four square blocks and then diapers needed changing. And we were done. I just knew the Democrats won; there was such a push nationally to get people to the polls. I waited in line for two hours that year. And we were crushed by what we witnessed in Ohio.
Eyeballing 40 now and MS is definitely a part of life choices, but my memory hiccups, fatigue and lack of cash weren’t going to stop activism this year. No way. Nuh ugh. I started on the phones after the Iowa caucus win for Senator Barack Obama. I was torn between him and a slew of other candidates but higher angels (and my hubby) told me to believe in Barack. I worked the Target Center event with my mom a few days before the caucus and my husband waited in line for hours with our kids in freezing weather. And it was electrifying for all of us. Three generations moved to jubilation and action.
Since MN’s caucuses, conventions I was a flurry of fluidity and hyper-activism. I wanted to know what every American should know about our election and voting systems. I wanted to know how I could be a counter balance to conservative messaging. I attended workshops, read fliers, researched and took action to the 10th power. I belonged to so many clubs that triple booking meetings was the new norm. My children said they hated my meetings. My ex questioned my reason and focus and how it could impact the children. Self-doubt and second-guessing dribbled into my activist flow from time to time but I knew that this election, my precinct, senate district and county was all that I could watch. And I had to help protect the vote of those I could.
As an election judge, I helped register almost 700 new voters November 4th. I stood up for the rights of people with disabilities when their caretaker didn’t. Can you imagine driving your motored chair one mile only to find that you didn’t have the proper documents to vote? And doing it again so you could? Well, two paraplegics did, and I’m so proud of their patriotic tenacity. I worked as happily and heartily as I could with equally dedicated independents, Republicans and Democrats from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. We facilitated, we protected, and we rocked the vote.
With all my new political friends this year, I could have attended several parties that Tuesday night. Instead, I rushed home to my family. My mom prepared a feast, and my brother and I gratefully wolfed down the gourmet burger, salad and pie. The kids and my niece were still awake, excitedly running around the house chasing cats. Sparkling cider and wine awaited in the fridge for a declarative moment. My brother and I recounted elections past, how we ran the streets of Chicago for this candidate and for that cause. It didn’t take long for the election to be called. And we toasted to our forefathers and mothers, our friends, mentors now passed with whom we could have shared this historic moment. I felt the knots in my shoulders ease and sighed relief.
My daughters sat on my lap as the Obamas took the stage to thousands cheering in Grant Park. Carmen fell asleep almost instantly; Chad took my hand and Devon wrapped her arms around my neck. She smiled at me, wiping my eyes and asked “why are you crying, mommy?” I asked if she knew what happened that night, saying THIS is what I had been helping with all year. She gazed at the screen and said, “I love you mommy.”