Dispatch from Washington: Election Night tension

Raven Tarrance, a 16-year-old from East Oakland who is serving as a page for the House of Representatives, wrote this essay about watching the presidential election returns in Washington, D.C. with pages representing both parties. -Katy

November 4, 2008: the Election Day that would make history. This was the day that every person, young or old, had the right to let their voice be heard and vote. But the person that made the day so special was Barack Obama, the African American presidential candidate.

My classmates and I watched CNN anxiously while waiting for the results. Obama T-shirts and signs filled the room. As the room overflowed with pages, you could feel the tension rise between the two parties. Harmless teasing turned into candidate bashing.

After becoming bored with the immaturity level in the Day Room, I stopped paying attention to the television screen. I gradually became uninterested in the biggest election in the history of America. Everything that was important earlier that day was unimportant. I began to question everything I thought mattered.

“How much of this really matters to people where I live?” I asked myself, “And why should they care?”

Here I was in Washington D.C. as a page, while most of my friends have never been out of California. People dying every day on the streets of Oakland, and I’m arguing with a McCain supporter. At that moment I realized I was wasting time, concerning myself with ignorance. I was becoming a part of the problem, instead of the solution. I started to understand that no matter what happened, change would come, regardless of who got elected.

The only thing that mattered was the future. When we leave the Page Program, none of us will remember the argument we had the night of the election. But we will remember who won: Barack Obama, our first black president.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    The Page says: “People dying every day on the streets of Oakland, and I’m arguing with a McCain supporter. At that moment I realized I was wasting time, concerning myself with ignorance.” “…none of us will remember the argument we had the night of the election. But we will remember who won: Barack Obama, our first black president.”

    So is it only “our first black president,” and his supporters, who possess the wisdom and lack the “ignorance” to understand the BIG PICTURE of “people dying on the streets of Oakland?” The black page comments suggest that an “ignorant” supporter of a white (McCain) candidate could never comprehend the ongoing street tragedies of her Oakland hood. I wonder if local McCain supporters are also “ignorant” of the three black mayors (Wilson, Harris, & Dellums) who lacked the compassion, comprehension or understanding necessary to prevent or stem the tide of “people dying on the streets of Oakland?”

    Perhaps our Oakland schooled page should turn a few pages of black leader Oakland history, dating back to the election of Oakland’s first black mayor in 1976, and get concerned about her ignorance of BLACK over white leadership not being as compassionately wise and effective as she’s seemingly been raised and taught to imagine.

    The election of OUR first black president is an historical moment. It is the first of many black presidential moments that will eventually give us to know where OUR black president is taking the United States. We already know where three black mayors have taken Oakland! I sure hope OUR first black president takes our nation to better place, or I’ll have nowhere else to move!

    As with Oakland’s black mayors, President Barack Obama’s success or failure will have little to do with the color of his skin and everything to do with content of his decisions in response to some of the most serious issues ever confronted by an American President.

    Unlike black American political leaders of times past, this American black leader will stand on a world stage and make decisions impacting infinitely more than how many live or die “on the streets of Oakland.” The ‘narrow agenda mind set’ of a Jesse Jackson is deficient equipment for the heavy lifting required of a successful president. I don’t think a black constituency with a narrow self serving agenda is very helpful to a black president, except at election time.

    So, ‘ask not what your black president can do for you. Ask what you can do for your black president,’ besides vote for him, right page!? I’ll be rooting for both of you!

  • Catherine

    I voted for Barack Obama; I am a white mother and I live and work in Oakland.

    I believe that many of the black families in Oakland are going to be surprised of what is expected of them by our president. I voted for Barack Obama because he believes and supports the parents right to choose schools for their children. That it is the parents’ responsibility to get their children to school on time with a full nights’ rest and food in their bellies. It is the parents’ responsiblity to help their children with their homework with the best of their ability to understand the work and to read to their children every night. It is the responsiblity of parents to keep their children in the house and off the street at times when it is dangerous or dark and there is not a reason for them to be outside.

    I believe, by his demonstration of hard work and education, that Mr. Obama believes parents should go back to school and in the labor force and not be on welfare any longer than necessary to get their education.

    And finally, I believe that Barack Obama believes that people who have children should be married or in committed relationships, that high school students are not prepared to be parents any more than an uneducated person is prepared to be president.

    I did not vote for John McCain because he did not believe in the same values that I put forth in life. But I do believe that Mr. McCain is a dedicated public servant, and that on the issues listed above, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama are more alike than they are different.

  • Sue

    John, if a 16-y-o Congressional Page had attempted to vote, she would have been committing voter fraud.

    How about *not* suggesting committing a criminal act to someone whom, from the rest of your post, you seem to view as uneducated and incompetent, at best?

    Seems to me you could be setting yourself up for incitement, or conspiracy, or some such criminal charges, too. Not even setting a very good example of enlightened self-interest, let alone wisdom, today.

  • Nextset

    Sue… Sue…

    You could just try and respond to the point of John’s post. Your statement above makes no sense at all to me.

    It does not bode well at all that our black schoolchildren are being trained to think and speak in simple robotic terms – and are being raised to believe that their points of view are the only legitimate ones anybody could have. People who think like that don’t make it in this Brave New World. These kids aren’t going to make it – but think I really think that is what they are being raised for by this Urban School System – to be victims, patsies and failures.

    I am so used to such nonsense coming from the mouths of Urban Black kids I don’t even react to it much anymore. I concentrate on those who have a better chance of survival. It’s too bad though. Things could have been different for them. As it is they just take their place on their very own mortality tables.

    For all the hype about “The One” we are moving into a Depression. During bad times marginal and borderline people fall – only the tougher and more resourceful prosper. Obama can’t make water run backwards – this economy is going to make roadkill of the underclass and the unskilled labor class. If there is much less food and fuel to go around, believe me, Obama can’t make them get it.

    We know from human history that no society can print money forever – as we are now attempting to do. And when you try to do so it doesn’t last long at all.

    And this child isn’t likely to ever get a clue about what is happening all around her. Too bad, really. But she is in rapture about “The One”.

    Reminds me of the Weimar Republic.

  • Sue

    Most of John’s comments were focused on black politicians. I tend to think of all politicians in a very negative light, regardless of their skin tone. So, there’s not much I can say to any of that. Oh, I suppose I could list some of the failures of white, latino, asian, or other politicians, but since I considered John’s comments off-topic, I chose not to follow his example.

    The only advice or suggestions in his post come in the final paragraph, where he suggests that the page should vote. So I commented on that suggestion.

    Clearer now?

    As for Ms. Tarrance, I think she’s come to a valuable insight – she figured out that it’s pointless to argue with or try to convince someone who refuses to be educated or to use logic: “…and I’m arguing with a McCain supporter. At that moment I realized I was wasting time, concerning myself with ignorance.”

    Engaging with the opposition should be about finding common ground and compromises. When one realizes that the opposition wants only to demonize one and will never compromise, the only thing to be done is to walk away.

    But I took a lot longer than 16 years to learn when it’s time to walk away, so I’m impressed with what the young lady’s already learning from the Page Program.

  • Nextset

    Sue: Any experience with people and policy/politics is valuable and the girl in question is doing well to be a page especially at this time in history.

    I don’t agree that it’s pointless to argue/debate with political opposites. It’s important to do so especially to test your own thought processes and to keep current.

    I see that the younger generation has difficulty realizing that other people have different political positions based on perfectly good reasons of their own. They had better learn (early) that they cannot expect other people to see things their way just because we are all here and breathing.

    In my experience with victim types – one of the reasons they didn’t take care of themselves and became victims of one sort or another is that they honestly believe that other people are like them, think and act like them (admittedly with different tastes). So they don’t imagine a “friend” would give them a venereal disease, molest their kids, stash dope in their things, lie about them, pass stolen property and bad checks to them.. the list goes on and on. And the don’t understand how people can vote republician either. Or Yes on 8, or anything else. They don’t understand friends or foes most of the time. They often think is all a matter of being good or evil.

    Our urban schools had better teach understanding. Starting with the understanding that the student isn’t the center of the universe.

    Freedom hurts.

    Brave New World!

  • Sue

    I love a good political argument/debate – one of my favorite email friends holds political views that are nearly 180 degrees different from mine, and we’ll discuss anything and everything under the sun. But the key to the discussion/debate being fun, interesting, mutually enjoyable, and always an opportunity to learn – that key is that both of us are looking for facts to base our opinions on. When either of us is presented with a new fact, we stop to consider and validate it (is Obama a Muslim? a socialist? is McCain ineligible for the office of President because he was born in Panama?), and we’re both willing to revise our previous views based on this new information.

    But when dealing with someone who is unwilling to look at new information and facts, and unwilling/unable to revise their positions – that’s no fun!

    As a hypothetical (and non-political) example, let’s suppose we met a person who was convinced that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. If this person is willing to consider the reasons you or I believe in the round earth revolving around the sun, we can talk about the two different ideas, and we’ll probably come to a reasonable conclusion, even if the conclusion is that we still don’t agree. OTOH, if the flat-earth believer is unwilling to consider the facts supporting our view, or even listen to an attempt to explain those facts, and instead starts screaming obscenities, calls us blasphemers, etc. there’s no point in trying to have any more discussions.

    Walking away really is the only reasonable choice with a person who ignores logic and rejects the possibility of learning new information, or changing their minds about anything. Getting that at 16 is wonderful, and I wish I’d had the same realization decades sooner than I did. I’d have had a lot less angry and pointless arguments.

  • Nextset

    Sue: If that is what happened here. I rather suspect that the writer cannot respect the opinion of anyone who supported McCain and Palin and looks down on all such people as being heretics or something.

    And it really does take living years of life to learn to accept that people are different.

    Besides our schools teach political conformity and orthodoxy. Secondary and Colleges.

    Ever see the movie PCU??

  • Sue

    My sons both accept that people are different. They’ve been learning that since infancy, because their parents are very different from most of the rest of the larger culture, and we’re continually explaining, “Even though we do (or think) ‘XYZ’ in our family, most people do (or think) ‘ABC’.”

    It’s getting much more challenging now that younger son is asking *why* other people do and think the things they do. We try to explain, but sometimes we just don’t know the reasons why, or the reasons seem to be illogical or nonsensical.

    Maybe using my kids’ as an example proves your point, though. They’re 16 and 11, so it has been “years of living” our different way.

    Yeah, the flip side of what I considered to be a valuable lesson for this Congressional Page – when to disengage because continuing the discussion is pointless – is learning to recognize when in oneself there’s no reasoning or logic going on, nor the willingness to learn from another with a different viewpoint / opinion. Although I don’t find evidence of that in Ms. Tarrance’s post, apparently you do, and perhaps I’ve simply missed it.

    Never heard of your movie, either.

  • John

    Sue: Your endorsement of this girl’s unwillingness to listen and think or say ignorant things before walking away is wholly consistent with your approach to interpersonal communication. But then it’s not for me to discourage your encouraging the younger generation to ‘stay the course’ of non-negotiable single minded mindlessness.

    On a more personal note, your frequent disconnected nonsensical (“missed it”) comments in response to what you’ve read is suggestive of a reading comprehension problem. So when you read, try (slowly) running your index finger under the word sentences you’re attempting to comprehend. It’s a technique that sometimes proves helpful.

    Your son’s special education teacher may have other helpful suggestions, so don’t be shy about asking for help! Special educators are well acquainted with the frustrations of students needing, but not accustomed to using an index finger as their special reading helper.

    Sadly, reading comprehension challenged individuals sometimes get so frustrated they start alienating folks with mindless middle finger gestures and other alienating forms of communication. Sometimes they go to absurd lengths to defend their responses to things they’ve read but don’t fully comprehend. This can sometimes make it difficult for them to form healthy play & blog mate relationships.

    As hard as it is, I’ve got my index fingers crossed over my middle fingers for you Sue!

  • Sue

    John, you may want to try some of your own suggestions. Nowhere did I say any of the things you’ve suggested. *My* reading comprehension is fine, thank you. Last time it was tested (in elementary school), it was at college level.

    We *all* miss things occasionally, and my previous suggestions were intended to have two purposes: 1 – a polite hint for the other person to reread and possibly find that *they* had missed something; 2 – an invitiation to provide quotes and comentary showing what the other person had read differently than I had.

    But I will stop offering others the excuse / opportunity to take cheap shots.

  • John

    Sue: Your above response suggests your effort is improving. It’s a better matched reply to post content than many of your previous efforts. Keep up the good work! Teacher John

  • Raven T (the page)

    The intelligence of th McCain supporter was NEVER a concern. My point was I was involved something so insignificant, for no reason.