18 days before the election
Population (Estimated): 5,300
2004 Election: Kerry 57%, Bush 42%, Other 1%
2008 Election: Obama 60%, McCain 39%, Other 1%
Two and a half weeks from the election and we’re about to set out on a savage burn across the country. 18 days and 7,000 miles of highly-caffeinated journalism. But this journey did not start tonight as I mull over the sack of freshly cleansed clothes I picked up from the all night Bushwick Laundromat. A place where even at midnight on a Thursday more than one contemplative soul is watching cartoons as the suds rise and fall.
No, it goes back two years to the time I spent several weeks traipsing around Queens with the candidates for state senate and state assembly as a devout cynic in the fall of 2006. As a political journalist, I followed a number of candidates ranging from a Chinese immigrant who had worked her way up through Flushing’s political inner circle to an African-American anti-gun advocate who got bumped off the ballot, but continued to fight on.
As I studied these would-be public servants as they thanklessly marched from door to door pleading for votes as I passively observed and prepared an easy 500 word horserace story, my lack of faith in the great American democratic experiment began to wane.
And here less than two years later, I am myself an elected official, cast in to office by a count of 13-to-7 in the September primary. I am deeply engaged in my community in Bushwick, Brooklyn, an advocate for the system, I once so distrusted, because I’ve sort of seen it work. Or at least how it works.
So why set out to seek the ideas of Americans at this historical moment. The choice to travel was inspired by a man who mastered the language, discovered a savvy understanding of politics, and held a deep love for the potential that this nation holds.
Hunter S. Thompsonc chose February 20, 2005 to fulfill his desire to end life on his own terms presumably because the 2004 election so shook his belief in the possibilities of America. Thompson has always been a hero of mine, not as the overblown drug-addled streotype, but for his tangential insights into the powerful forces that rule both our private and public lives. In 1972, Thompson crashed around America as an important election approached, why not do the same with him gone.
What would Thompson have thought of this election. The one originally pegged as a face-off between the inherited Hillary Clinton and industrial-strength Rudy Giuliani. Can you imagine his take on Obama’s elongated defeat of Clinton or McCain’s nomination after being all but out of cash in mid-2007. And what would he say about Sarah Palin? Would he have the audacity to hope?
If only we knew, but alas we never will. But in 18 days we’ll know who will be faced with the challenges of the next four years. We begin with Media, Pennsylvania, Everybody’s Hometown and mine too.