cross-posted at Dagblog
Tuesday morning was a beautiful day in Cleveland: crisp, clear and golden. I dressed up a bit, as I always do on Election Day. I heard a radio story a few years back about some college students who had put on ties because they were voting for the first time and it felt special, and I thought, Yes. It should always be celebrated. So now I do the same, even on days when my party is predicted to take some hard losses.
I got to my polling place after the morning rush had ended. Voting was quick, and quiet. My local poll workers, as always, were friendly and good at their jobs. Then I spent the rest of the day at work: a union meeting, the library, various necessary conversations with various colleagues, an oral defense by a student completing his master's thesis. I spent the afternoon away from national politics and immersed in everyday workplace politics: how can we best frame X's achievements to help the tenure committee understand them? How will we handle a big upcoming batch of extra service work? Could I get colleague Y's advice, just for a couple minutes, on one of my pet projects? My M.A. student did splendidly, walking into the exam room convinced that he was no good at oral presentations and walking out with high honors (although not really convinced by them, either). Of course, half an hour later that student was back at his work-study job in the library, and I was standing across from his desk with a stack of books to check out; no glory, really. The best I could do was boast about him to every one of his supervisors and co-workers who came in range, and repeat the phrase "High Honors" as often as possible. Then I went home to pack my bags: like many academics, I don't live in the same place as the person I live with, and so I spent last night driving to my partner's town. But even as I was packing the election news stayed off, because I was on the phone with a colleague who had just mailed his first book to a publisher and needed to talk through the last few exhausting weeks of revision.
I didn't get into the car until the polls had closed. NPR was running down the early results, which weren't surprising. The losses were losses I expected. When the Cleveland radio signal broke up, I scanned up and down the radio dial, stopping wherever it felt right. There's a lot of classic rock waiting out there between the big cities, and a lot of other things, too. I listened to county returns coming in in rural Ohio, a long list of local spending measures: 68 to 31 for the firehouse levy, 61 to 39 for the school levy, 52 to 47 for a local restaurant's liquor license. I found it oddly soothing. I hit an old jazz program and then drove out of its signal range. I heard Rand Paul's victory speech, and early returns from the Pennsylvania Senate race. I listened to old AM hits from the seventies, and to the Stones. At a rest stop I saw CNN broadcasting Boehner's victory speech. I stumbled on an early Beethoven symphony that seemed to fit the late hour and the clear, wintry night. And I found, to my great surprise, that I was not depressed. The election was as bad as predicted, or almost, but not worse. I knew I would be upset over the next two years about specific legislation; I would be upset the next day, when I thought about the governorships and state legislatures across the Rust Belt, now held by sworn budget-cutters in a deep recession. But I'd dreaded my election-night drive, picturing myself listening miserably to election results for mile after mile, and that misery didn't come.
I wasn't pleased. The results will not be good for the country. But I discovered that I had stopped focusing on what Democrats and progressives might lose and start focusing on how to move forward again. Last night was not the last election I expect my side to lose. I'm going to see them win again, and lose again, many more times, and progress will stutter or step back and then keep gaining ground. It doesn't matter how many lumps we take on the way. Nothing in politics is ever over. The question isn't whether you got what you want this time, or even if you'll get what you want next time. I'm a progressive; it's always been about the future, and I never expected to get there all at once. There are two years until the next election. Those are going to be two tough years for the Democrats in Washington, and it's going to take all of their sweat and tears to keep the Republicans from doing further economic harm to our country. But my job isn't to fight the Republicans in Congress; my job is to fight for more Democrats and progressives next time around. And now there's nothing for me to think about but next time.
I got home, where the person I love is, in the early hours of the morning on a cold, clear night. I could see the stars; I could see my own breath in front of me. It was the first night of winter, and it came a little sooner than I'd hoped, but I always expected winter to come. And I felt ready.