It's funny, remembering how much of my adolescence and young adult years were spent either fervently protesting against or shying away from our government and its faulty representatives. One of my dearest high school friends recently contacted me after stumbling across a column I had written in our 2002 school newspaper. I don't remember the column's full title, but I'm quite sure that the words "Good ole GW" and "pretzel" were in there somewhere. Remember when he choked on a pretzel and that made the news? Remember that?
I received my first "hate" mail after the publication of that 500-word essay. We were required to let the student in question, a girl whose name I remember but won't share, print her own rebuttal editorial. I kind of admired her for that, though it stung because her political party was still frustratingly in power, and would be for far longer than we could imagine, even then. But what felt the best was knowing that no matter what she said or did, no one could deny that George Bush had faced down the dangers of a carby treat and had lived to tell the tale. There were bruises - again, this was news.
Photo credit: BBC
We wonder now why irony has become such a popular literary trend. For those of us who came of age during the Bush administration, who protested weekly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, who wrote snarky editorials and campaigned for Kerry, and yes, maybe even Gore--irony was not a choice. It was our default, and it had to be.
Years later, facing one of the most tragic economic depressions in recent American history, we plod on, though I don't feel the same need for irony. Obama isn't perfect, but he's assertive and diplomatic, and he's never made the headlines for indigestion. Hamburgers at local joints, yes, but he manages somehow to always keep them down.
I spotted this t-shirt at the Maker Faire in San Mateo last weekend, and was sorely tempted to buy it. It really made me stop and think, wow, we've come a long way from the days of GW Bush's face superimposed over Alfred E. Neumann's. Presidential imitation has gone from abject mockery to some bizarre mixture of fascination, awe, and, yes, lust.
Needless to say, I didn't buy it, but if I see anyone on the street wearing it, I'm giving them a high five.
It looks like it might have just begun, blooming with the beginning of spring's cherry blossoms. Just today, the House of Representatives approved the latest health care bill, which stipulates that health insurers allow children to stay on their parents' plans until their 26th birthday, that children with medical problems not be dropped from their family plans, and that many large companies face stiff fines for failing to cover their employees. The bipartisan bickering about passing this bill included a group of conservative Democrats (who are they, I want to know?) who insisted on including a clause clarifying that none of this federal health insurance money go to providing abortions.
Just what does this all mean?
It doesn't mean that getting health care coverage will be instantly easier, nor does it mean that this bill has yet become law. The vote now goes to the Senate. And even if the bill does get passed without hitch, it still might be several months before everyday Americans see real change in their health care coverage.
That said, I can't help fluttering with excitement at the thought that maybe, at some point, so many of the decisions I make in life aren't dictated by who will pay my medical bills, and how. It seems nothing short of ironic that this bill pass just two months shy of my 26th birthday, where for the past three years my family has been generous enough to pay to COBRA my health insurance. Fresh out of college I applied for my own health insurance, but was denied across the board because I have a pre-existing condition. I was offered insurance through my previous job, but didn't work there long enough for the transition between companies to make any real difference.
Now I'm back in school, and the CSU system (when faced with enough budget cuts to knock it to its knees) offers a laughable $500 reimbursement for insulin...per year. (Any diabetic reading this knows that one vial of insulin has a retail value of $90; as someone on an insulin pump, I go through 3 vials a month--$500 would last me about six weeks.) So - so I'm ridiculously lucky that my parents are able to help me out, but I'm damned well ready to help myself out, or to let the government throw me and my fellow pre-existing-conditioners a bone.
Harry Reid, you listening? Blue Cross? HealthNet? Aetna? Kaiser? Big business? Weak-kneed Democrats in the Senate, Republicans and Independents who don't know enough diabetics or asthmatics or recent college grads foregoing health insurance--I hope you're paying attention.
I hope you're all paying attention, because the rest of us everyday Americans, we certainly are.
The sun rose slowly over the Washington Monument on January 20, 2009. Flocks of seagulls swarmed the air, reflecting the excitement from the ground. The air was bitterly cold, fresh and clean. Journalists, tourists, officials and ROTC volunteers poured into the National Mall in steady streams.
By some awesome trick of the universe, I was there. I was there in long johns, jeans, leg warmers, three sweaters, a ski jacket, scarf, beanie and gloves. Michelle and I packed the Washington Post, a bag of carrots, apples and crackers, and two fleece blankets. We were far from the Lincoln Memorial--very far, but much closer to meaningful change than I have ever been.
What did it feel like? I've never been the type to quote "America the Beautiful" or remember the Pledge of Allegiance verbatim--any sense of American identity I have is the result of open debate, often defiance for the system we have yet to reform. It is hard to let one's guard down after several years of tuning out the status quo. Mine is a generation used to being let down by the global gag rule, by decreasing funds for public education and hard-fought battles against racial profiling and homophobia. But last Tuesday--the Presidential Inauguration at the Capitol steps--the crowd was pulsing with growing optimism.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met."
We sat in the cold for five hours. The longer we sat, the more surrounded we became. Surrounded by little old black women from Tennessee and Alabama, waving Obama flags, by twenty-year-old college reporters with manual cameras, by five-year-olds decked out in snowsuits. Every time I stood up, the sea of people grew to meet me. The energy of the crowd was raw, unadulterated. And somehow, I was there.
It took well over an hour to leave the Mall. We huddled like penguins, wandering en masse toward any available exit. Both my shoes had loose laces, but the combination of the crowd and the freezing cold kept me from leaning down to fix the problem. Each step forward resulted in two tugs in opposite directions, and yet it was symbolic of that thread that tied us all there, filing past national monuments and weaving through political officials like the latest group of tired and hungry masses.
The promise of renewal is strong.
One week later, it is hard to believe how much of the universe shifted that day. I've read and watched a lot of interviews in which citizens express their fears that Obama has been idolized to an unhealthy extent, and that his is an unlikely journey. Perhaps, and yet anyone standing in National Mall on Inauguration day will tell you that the sheer power of belief--of honest, critical expression--is enough to mobilize the most diverse groups.
On January 20, 2009, I felt vindicated. I know I wasn't the only one.