The first time I ever cared about politics was in 2008. Before that, I remember being vaguely disappointed that Bush became president in 2004 because I knew my parents liked the other guy. I was about 10 years old at the time though, so I didn’t exactly lose sleep over politics.
But things were different in 2008. I immersed myself in the world of politics and loved it. I believed in Barack Obama and the change he promised. He seemed like the perfect president. He was smart, funny, down to earth. He was from my hometown. He would make history as the first black president. He inspired millions.
Most importantly, he was just different from other politicians. At least that’s what I thought, although I guess I couldn’t really compare him with others since I had never really paid attention to presidential elections. I was only 14. But I wasn’t the only one who thought he was different- my whole family felt the same way.
My grandfather, who had lived in America for decades, was for the very first time excited to exercise his right to vote. He believed that Obama would change the way the U.S. interacted with the rest of the world, with the Middle East and his homeland, Palestine.
As part of my political awakening, I went to mock Democratic conventions in my high school where I made an Obama headband and ate cookies with “B” and “O” spelled in icing. I bought an over-sized sweatshirt, soft, warm, and perfect for Chicago winters, but more importantly it said “OBAMA 2008” in red and blue lettering.
I was so disappointed that I wasn’t old enough to vote for Obama. I was however, able to vote in my high school’s mock election, and I took it pretty seriously. Much to my dismay, Senator John McCain came out as the winner, and I was really taken aback by the results. I was born and raised in the southside of Chicago, so I thought that everyone I knew supported Obama. But this was my first year attending a private high school in the suburbs, and I didn’t realize how different the political affiliations were in the town just 20 minutes away from where I lived. It was quite a culture shock.
I didn’t dwell on McCain’s win for long though. Who cares about a mock election when the real elections are taking place? My family cheered when Obama was announced the winner. My uncle sent us watches with Obama’s picture on the faces, and I proudly wore my Obama headband and watch to school, relishing in the disappointment of the McCain supporters. My grandfather hung up an Obama calendar prominently in his house.
A few months later, my grandfather took down the calendar, tore it up, and threw it away. He decided that Obama wasn’t any different from any other politician. It wasn’t just my grandfather though – my admiration for Obama began to fade too.
I don’t remember exactly when my opinion of him began to change, but as his first term was coming to an end I wasn’t as eager to help reelect him as I thought I would be. He didn’t actually make many changes. He didn’t close Guantanamo Bay. He didn’t stop supporting Israel’s oppression of Palestine. Nothing that I was excited for actually happened.
I was excited to vote though; it was my first time after all. So I decided that I needed to do some serious research and not just get swept away by campaign speeches and promises.
My research led me to Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The Green Party supports suspending military and foreign aid to Israel until they end their oppressive tactics, so as a Palestinian American voting for Stein was a no-brainer. When people said that voting third party was a wasted vote I thought, well isn’t it also a waste to vote for someone I don’t want to be the president? I no longer wanted Obama to be president, so I would vote for Stein.
As it turned out, I ended up voting for Obama. I was so excited to vote for the first time and I just couldn’t waste my vote on someone who obviously wouldn’t win. Besides, Obama wasn’t too bad, and he would be even better in his second term when he wouldn’t have to worry about getting reelected.
I regretted not taking a more principled stance and going Green not too long after casting my vote. In his second term Obama approved giving Israel more military aid even as it slaughtered Palestinians in Gaza. He joked about drones as his drone program killed countless innocent civilians. He increased surveillance of Muslims. He was as awful as everyone else.
I decided that I wouldn’t vote anymore. What was the point anyway? Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin. Choosing the lesser evil is still choosing evil. Third parties can’t win. I don’t even live in a swing state so what does it matter? George Washington warned us against the dangers of political parties. The Electoral College is messed up anyway. I wanted a political revolution à la Russell Brand.
Sanders spoke of a political revolution too, but it didn’t interest me at first. I learned my lesson with Obama; I was so excited about him, only to be so disappointed. I expected him to change so much, but what difference did he make anyway?
The truth is, though, that he did make a difference to the millions of Americans who’ve had their healthcare improved by the Affordable Care Act; to the nearly 250 (so far) federal inmates who were given a second chance by Obama’s clemency initiative like this woman; to the 106 year old woman who danced with joy when she met the Obamas.
Recently, I have found myself spending more time defending Obama than criticizing him, and fuming at the unfair and usually racist criticisms of President Obama, probably one of the best presidents our nation has ever had. Despite this, I have a hard time forming a coherent opinion about President Obama. On the one hand, he has accomplished amazing things in the face of extreme hatred that is often racially charged. How can I not have the utmost respect for someone like that? On the other hand, some of his policies have caused so much pain and destruction. How can I have any respect for someone like that?
One day as I pondered my mixed opinions about President Obama and elections, I realized that I had a very clear course of action for this year’s primary. I would vote for Bernie Sanders. I would be happy if he is elected. I would rejoice at any accomplishments he would be able to deliver. But I wouldn’t expect too much from him. I wouldn’t expect him to take a stand against the military industrial complex. I wouldn’t expect him to make a real difference regarding the U.S’s stance on Israel and Palestine. I wouldn’t expect him to accomplish everything he set out to do. I would vote for him because he was the best option, but you wouldn’t catch me clad in Bernie Sanders gear shouting “Feel the Bern” at a Sanders rally.
I few weeks later I found myself waiting in line for about three hours to go to a Sanders rally. At least I wasn’t wearing Sanders clothing! I was tempted to buy a Bernie sweatshirt though, mostly because I was cold. I didn’t realize would be waiting outside for so long so I was stuck shivering for hours without a sweater.
By the time the Illinois primary elections came around I was pretty much “Feeling the Bern” although I still didn’t buy a sweatshirt or anything. I voted for him and was extremely disappointed that he didn’t win Illinois. I’m still holding out hope that he will get the nomination. He’s not perfect, and I have a a few problems with him, but I think he’s by far the best choice.
I’m still trying to decide what I will do for the general election. I will definitely vote for Bernie if he is the nominee (though that seems unlikely) but I’m not sure what I will do if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. The thought of Trump or Cruz being president is terrifying, but Clinton definitely doesn’t deserve my vote. The lack of sympathy she has shown to innocent Palestinians is sickening, infuriating, even evil. I don’t think I can vote for her with a clear conscience.
I’ll probably change my mind countless times from now to November but the one thing I know for sure is that I’ve learned a lot about the political process since 2008. Most of it has been negative, but I guess that’s not surprising. When you start off naive and completely hopeful you’re bound to be disappointed after you realize that things aren’t as black and white as you once thought.