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A Post-Election Stroll

It's 1:42 AM Wednesday morning, and I've just returned from venturing outside my Atlanta apartment amid cheers, car horns, and indistinguishable chants. What follows is a non-exaggerated account, to be taken simply as a true life anecdote in a media-drenched world full of slogans, soundbites, and bullshit narratives.

As I walked east on 3rd street, it was mere moments before I heard a boisterous voice, loud and clear. He was a black man in his twenties, strolling confidently on the opposite site of the street, posturing the way hip-hop artists do when they know there are cameras around.

I heard his triumphant cry: "Yeah baby! It's all about the O! Fuck McCain!" I couldn't help but look, and my gaze remained fixed upon him as we trotted in opposite directions. We made eye contact, and he directed his shouting my way. Slowing his pace, he asked me, "you hear what I said? Obama baby!"

I never talk to strangers. I never like when they talk to me, which is virtually every day, be it on the train, bus, or on foot. For some reason, though, I felt compelled to buck his sense of vicarious accomplishment. "What's he going to do for you?" I shouted back. His reply was simple, and cringe-worthy. "He's gonna give me change! What's he gonna give you?"

"He's going to dissolve my liberties and yours," I said, to which he poignantly replied, "Yeah bitch, that's why you voted for the nigga with the short arms."

Baffled, I kept walking. And then I heard the horns. The blaring sustained car horns that I can still hear out of my window, zooming with a mesmerizing Doppler effect up and down Peachtree street, the main thoroughfare which is to Atlanta as Broadway is to New York City. Obama/Biden signs sticking out of car sun roofs, sensationalist Obama apparel with airbrushed phrases like "Change" and "Hope," and more surreal commotion than I've ever seen after 1:00 am on a Tuesday.

I walked south for two blocks until I reached North Avenue, where an even bigger gaggle of Obama nighthawks were shouting and carrying on, decked out with shirts, placards, stickers, and flags. The rallying cry: "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma!"

"Mar-xis-m, Mar-xis-m," I muttered quietly to myself. Not quietly enough it turned out, as while my attention was arrested by the celebratory cries of the half-moon droves, a homeless man meandering down North Avenue matched my pace and asked me a very honest question: "Hey man, you ain't pissed are you?"

I had to stop and think. What was I feeling? I wasn't angry. I wasn't even disappointed; it's pretty hard to disappoint someone as cynical as I am, and admittedly a significant part of me was undeniably touched by the historic implications of this election. I had always thought about the idea of a "black" president (or at least someone other than an aging WASP) ever since I realized at a young age that, while throughout the history of our republic, black people had overcome tremendous odds and catalyzed their own self-determination to achieve greatness, the presidency seemed just out of reach for a mainstream black American.

Barack Obama is anything but mainstream, but I digress...

My honest answer was "No." By this time, we had walked a full block and were standing on the corner of North Avenue and West Peachtree street. I told him I was concerned that people would be distracted from the real ways in which they could improve their lives. I told him that simply electing someone and feeling good about it would never change a thing, and would only serve to further exacerbate the mentality of entitlement and the systemic apathy that has stagnated communities across America for years.

His words were as surprising as they were candid: "People cain't be gettin' complacent, y'understand? These people cain't just be voting for some character and expect that they can just sit back and let whatever they dreaming about come to 'em. Ain't no politician nowhere who ever said some magic spell and changed people's lives."

I smiled, and I smiled big. This man, a middle-aged black man named Angelo with ill-fitting clothes and a scraggly beard, had once again reminded me that the average person isn't so average after all. As
we continued walking west, I told him how much I agreed with him and how much I respected his point of view. I was talking politics with a bum, and I was intrigued by and grateful for every second of it.

He described what he saw as a "cycle," in which values and ideas are passed on to future generations, either for the betterment of society, or for the detriment of society. I was sure he was unemployed, yet he spoke of the virtue of "getting up and going to work," "makin' your living," and "taking care of your family."

I silently thought of two reasons for the amount clarity that came from a man living on the streets of Atlanta. The first was the fact that without a job, a family, and possessions, Angelo's only real pasttime was spent thinking about his life and his values. The second, even more telling of the state of our society, was the fact that without exposure to television, radio, and the internet, I was talking to a man who lived in a complete media vacuum. He lived a life completed unswayed by a liberal dominated mass-media monolith.

We walked for another block, and as we crossed Spring street in front of honking cars and shouting city dwellers, I felt more comforted by his honesty and integrity - things which I imagined were rare commodities among the numerous Atlantans forced to live one day at a time, without a bed to sleep in, a family to rely on, or a paycheck to collect.

I walked into North Avenue's BP gas station, the hub of nightlife for the southern tip of Midtown, and bought Angelo something to eat. I didn't have any cash on me, but I couldn't deny that if I could have paid for this conversation, I would have. He thanked me, wished me luck, and after learning that I was a mere 22 years old, reminded me I had a lot of living to do, and a lot of perspective to gain.

I walked the remaining 3 blocks to my house, satisfied with the knowledge that somewhere, somehow, the true spirit of America would survive. I felt assured that no matter who possessed the keys, this country was built by people who didn't believe in government, corporations, banks, demogogues, politicians, or rhetoric.

This country was built by people who believed in themselves.

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