I’m sorry for such an odd first letter. I’ve been trying to write about the election for almost a week now, but I’ve failed to find the words, so I hope you forgive this awkward effort.
You see, in the nine months I’ve been working my heart out to defeat the hurtful amendment that would’ve permanently banned same-sex marriage in Minnesota, I never let myself imagine what came next. I’m very much a “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” kind of person.
And in those last, frantic days, I only had the energy to focus on the work, not the outcome. I was grateful, in a weird way, that the Darling Husband’s conference for work required me to stay out of the campaign office over the weekend.
The moral support from John Barrowman (say it with me, mmm hmm) didn’t hurt either. But I found myself conducting mental calculations, trying to negotiate a way to go in for a few hours more. I’m a complete junkie.
But I never could’ve done the 13+ hour days of training and coaching and troubleshooting and calling on Monday and Tuesday if I hadn’t been forced to rest up a bit. They were excruciatingly painful, and endlessly exhilarating. I don’t I’ve ever “been on” so unrelentingly, for so long, as I was in those last two days. And it felt like someone had been caning the soles of my feet by the time the boots came off at night.
But the atmosphere was electric in the Saint Paul office. It seemed like volunteers knew something special was happening, and people who’d never put in an hour on the campaign before took an hour off work so they could say they’d been a part of it. And those of us who’ve been in it for the long haul were determined to squeeze every last experience from our time. The first shift I did back at the main office, they had a sumptuous spread of food, and they interrupted shifts for a dance break. I was furious! I’d been busting my ass for almost three months off-site–we didn’t have crockpots of soup and conga lines! (I felt a little better when folks told me that these things only came along in that last week.)
We knew this extraordinary moment wasn’t going to last much longer, even though we weren’t completely sure what would come next. I saw no fewer than five efforts to collect emails and phone numbers from the staff and hardcore volunteers. Even little Phoebe was trying to create a little phone book so she wouldn’t lose any of the people who’d filled her world for almost a year (an incalculable time, for an eight-year-old).
I felt badly going home to watch election returns, instead of down to the RiverCentre for the big party. I really wanted to be there with everyone, but it was a school night and I knew it would be a long time before we knew anything about the outcome. So I went home to watch returns with the person who made me such a big fan of marriage in the first place.
You’ve probably seen the video of Richard Carlbom, in the middle of telling everyone to head home and get some rest, receive the news that we’d won. My Twitter feed the next day was full of staffers giving him flak for that Howard Dean yell. Me, I just burst out in sobs–another way I’m like your mom, I’m sure. And then I collapsed into dreamless sleep. But I took a second to leave this note for the boys, in case they woke up earlier than I did.
And we all hiked down to the Capitol the next evening for the big victory rally. I wanted to be there to reclaim some of the outpouring of emotion I’d missed at the party the night before–the pictures made me cry all over again–but also to hear where this thing would go next. We’d been so ready to bounce back and keep fighting, to transform our grief into resolve. But it felt like that moment when you’re walking down the stairs, so sure there’s one more step than there actually is, and your knees buckle as you come down hard on a stair that isn’t there. In all the joy and relief, there was no clear path forward.
Not only did we defeat the amendment, but we won back DFL majorities in both houses of the state legislature. It feels like the next logical step is to translate all this momentum and public consensus into an effort to fully legalize marriage, but I’m not sure that’s on the docket for the next session. There’s a kind of policy conference at the beginning of December, and I really want to be there. I’m also looking for ways to shift some of this leftover effort into a new project, maybe something to do with all the personal work on civil rights and multicultural justice I’ve been doing.
But this is what I want to say to you, at the end of this amazing, historic, victorious fight: Start dreaming. I’m so glad to hear your current post is safe and supportive–I can’t imagine how hard those months in Oklahoma must’ve been, in a branch of service that really hasn’t fully bought into the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I know you’ve suffered for your aspirations to be a soldier. And we’re all so proud of you for sticking it out.
But when you’re done with this part of your life, when you’ve had your adventures and realized your highest goals, I hope you come home. I hope you fall in crazy love with the one man who’ll make your heart whole, like mine has been these sixteen years. And I hope I can be there on the happy day when you marry each other, right here in Minnesota. I want to dance with you and your brothers and my sons, and hug your mother and cry, and wave you off into your brave new future together.
You keep working on your dreams, and I’ll keep working on Minnesota. I can’t wait to see what we make of them.
Here’s a little validation for Jess… 😉
Another excellent post, Jess. I consider it a privilege to see your pouring your heart out in public.
Keep doing what you’re doing.