I want to hug President Barack Obama. And you’re going to help me do it.
On January 20, 2009 I watched Obama’s inauguration with my kids, who were just 2–1/2 and 4–1/2 at the time. A few months prior I had traded a raise for the ability to stay at home (and still kinda sorta work) one day a week. That day was Tuesday. It turned out to be an excellent choice. My kids were with me on Election Day and again for the inauguration. Just as the inauguration was starting, I had the idea to record us watching it. Seven years later, it’s still my favorite video of us together. It was a beginning, but I couldn’t have known then what it was really the beginning of.
I watched the inauguration with unabashed glee. It was historical, hopeful, a blast of youth and newness and change that we needed badly. I watched it as a writer who was beside herself that the English language was being used correctly and beautifully for the first time in eight years. But given that I was straight, married, white, insured, employed, and solidly middle class, I didn’t really think that a President could affect my life all that much, could he? The president is The President and I’m just, well, me. Lower case m.
I couldn’t have known that just 29 days later that I—the breadwinner for my family of four—would lose my job. It was the first time I had ever lost a job in my almost 20-year career. I had felt untouchable. But I was touched that day alright. And texting my husband that I’d lost my job, choking down my panic and tears to pack my boxes and papers and go through my computer because I never wanted to see that place again, then drinking beer on my back porch alone with a puffy tear-stained face while the rest of the neighborhood was at work, then for the finale? Showing up same-day hungover to a tour of my son’s potential elementary school when I didn’t know if he’d even be going to that school, if we’d be moving, or if we’d all be living in a van down by the river by the time September rolled around. It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.
But because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had been passed the day before—let me repeat, ONE day before—I lost my job, I was able to afford the significantly reduced COBRA payments and keep my family insured. I was eligible for extended unemployment benefits (although I never ended up needing to use them). For the first time in my life, I felt like there had been a safety net beyond what we as individuals were responsible for, one that we wouldn’t have rebounded nearly as quickly without. It’s zero exaggeration to say that President Obama being in office and making the decisions he made when he made them had a profound and immediate positive impact on my life and the lives of my entire family. But that’s just me, that’s just the four of us.
He is the first President to use the words “bisexual,” “transgender,” or “lesbian” in a State of the Union address. He repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and made gay marriage just plain ol’ marriage.
He is the first President to state unequivocally that climate change is real. To, gasp, believe in science! And he doesn’t care who knows it! He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and has been a strong voice for women and girls. When’s the last time you heard a President say, “This is what a feminist looks like”? Exactly never?
He helped save the American auto industry. The stock market has tripled. Unemployment has been cut in half but “perhaps the more impressive statistic is that at 5 percent (as of July 2016), the current unemployment rate is below the historical median since 1948 of of 5.5 percent.”
He has shown us a marriage that’s less political merger or diorama of outdated gender stereotypes and more a modern portrait of equals. And he has shown us that there are some moments when tears are the one thing we have in common, that words can fail even the most eloquent among us.
He ended the war in Iraq and protected two liberal seats on the Supreme Court. He passed healthcare reform, credit card reform, and Wall Street reform. That’s a lot of reformin’.
Yeah, yeah, but what is this hugging business all about?
Oh right. That. If this election has proven anything, it’s that if you voted for Obama and still like him, the fact that he’s leaving office soon is one big porcupine-quill-coated pill to swallow. I mean, our options this November are: 1) Armageddon and 2) Not Armageddon.
I will miss him. I will miss his heart and humor. I will miss the dignity and integrity that he brought to the highest office in the land. I’ll miss the way he easily navigated culture and blazed an indelible path through the internet. I’ll miss having a person of color in this office, because if the debates taught me anything it’s that listening to powerful white people discuss race is hearsay at best, squirm-inducing and dangerous at worst. I’ll miss him and Joe Biden together, because they’ve been the buddy movie that I didn’t realize I needed every. damn. day of my life.
President Obama is the only president my kids have ever known. So: of course a person who isn’t white can be president. Of course a man can be a feminist. Of course we are all created equal and can be married. Of course we should care about different classes, different races, different circumstances. Of course, of course, of course.
So, yeah, you bet I want to give President Obama a (non-creepy) hug and say thank you. To that end, I started a White House petition and you and me? We’re gonna make this thing happen. You, me, and roughly 99,987 of our friends that is. Like, soon. Like, we’ve got 30 days to get 100,000 signatures so that the White House will read it and think, “What? Are you kidding me? There’s NO way we’re saying no to this! It is so ON, Kimberly Harrington and friends!”
HERE’S WHERE YOU COME IN: Click on the below, sign it, share it, Facebook it, tweet the bejesus out of it, link it to your Medium piece. We’re all in this one big (non-creepy) hug together. How is this going to work? Is this a whistle stop tour? A bus tour? A Segway tour? (Please don’t let it be a Segway tour). HOW DO WE GET OUR HUGS? I don’t know, people, I’m not a logistics person. But if you’re feeling grateful for this president, let’s start here:
It's been a tough year to focus on what's going right. Everything feels wrong, wrong, wrong. And President Obama…petitions.whitehouse.gov
And if for some unfathomable reason the petition doesn’t get enough signatures or it does but The White House says “no thanks” (DON’T SAY NO THANKS, The White House) or I never meet President Obama and his badass wife in person (see how I added her in there just now, because I really want a twofer on this thing, maybe I could just give her a quick arm squeeze?), I just want to say right here, right now, thank you…
…thank you for everything, Barack Obama.
If you’d like to thank President Barack Obama too, please consider recommending this piece so it can reach more people. If you liked this piece in particular (or like politics in general), here are some other pieces you might enjoy and/or hate read:
I’ve been desperate to not feel like I’m a citizen of the most cringe-inducing country on Earth. Oh, you too?medium.com
Baa baa black sheep, Have you any wool? No sir, no sir, The millionaires and billionaires have it, sorry.medium.com
“You go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” — Donald Rumsfeldmedium.com
P.S. If you’re thinking of sending me some sort of abusive Obama-hating Hillary-hating Bernie-or-Bust-ing response, save it for another audience because I am definitely not the one you want. Trust me on that.
Follow me on Twitter, but only if you’re not a dick. I don’t have time for that either.