“Will I Have the Courage? My Election Journal”
(George W. Bush 2nd Term,U.S. November, 2004)
By Kathy Engel
In August, just before the Republican National Convention and the temporary liberation ofNew York City(protest city regardless of no park permit), I ran into the Secretary of State riding my bike to the beach to watch my daughter surf. I rode up to him in my blue jean skirt and “all or none of us” baseball cap, no one else in sight on the quaint country road. This is what we said, more or less:
I asked him if he was who I thought he was. He said probably. I asked if we could talk for a minute. What do you want to talk about he asked. I said I thought he had a chance to make history. He said how. I said he could switch and stand for another president. He said I was silly, just silly. (I’ve been called naïve, hopelessly optimistic, “heartfelt” as a poet, but never silly). I said no I wasn’t silly, just hopeful. I said I was worried about the war. He said we were bringing elections and democracy to two places –AfghanistanandIraq, but people like you (me) don’t care about that. I asked what he would say to the mothers of the killed soldiers about the bombs and the fact that the war isn’t what we had been told. He said he would tell them it’s a big sacrifice but it’s worth it. He said people like you (me) never think there’s a reason to bomb. I said he shouldn’t assume about people (like me). I asked if he thought people ever changed their minds about important issues, based on information (prompted by my sister’s brilliant essay on the subject). He said you (I) might but he wouldn’t. I said I was worried about our democracy. He said he had been working with our democracy more than thirty years and it is strong. And we will win he said. People will vote inAfghanistanandIraq, he said, but you (I) don’t care about that. We will win he said and then turned into a driveway. Thanks for talking to me I said.
Just After7 a.m., NYC,Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004
I walk to my car looking at each person I pass like a family member. This isNew Yorkafter all, city of burned towers, Amadou Diallo, Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, the Health and Hospital Workers Union/1199, the 85% majority. This crying town is the capital of the world. And the world is crying.
On the Long Island Expressway east towards home, green ocean waves I’ll never again take for granted, and my beautiful funny girls; coming home from the battleground state of Pennsylvania via beloved war torn Manhattan, I open the windows wide, let in all carbon monoxide, the “Essential Leonard Cohen” blaring monotone romantic words about poverty, racism, war and the woman he loves. Banners over the highway read: Sandy Loves Tommy. Support Our Troops. Remember 9/11.
Then I cry. A big open-windowed gushing. To get it out before I see the girls. Before I see another human. Or even a deer in the driveway or our dog Luna. To get it out before I look at the perpetual sea or my beautiful house wondering how I deserve a beautiful house. Before I check e-mail, kitchen sink, or bills. Before I see my eighty-year-old sprinting mother who spent two days getting out votes with the NAACP inFlorida, and thinks I’m always optimistic. Before I see the father of my beautiful girls who is making mosaics and fiercely planting things in the earth, whose ninety-one-year-old father died quietly just days before the so-called election but not before seeing the Red Sox win. I run through years in my mind. Coffee and dancing inNicaragua. The day Mandela was released. Bombs overLebanon. The day the Sandinistas lost.Grenadain a flash.Haitiburning.FirstGulfWar and Military Families Support Network. Press releases, endless press releases. The Palestinian mother hearing her daughter’s voice crying outside the prison walls as ice was pressed on her milk-filled breasts by an Israeli soldier. Taina, of Make the Road by Walking, thanking Hillary Clinton for forgetting poor women.Chile,South America. Neruda, always Neruda. The deaths of friends who would have helped make the poem we need today.