Last night I opted to be in the best possible place during an election that was scaring me a little too much: safe inside the Young Chicago Authors home base, surrounded by the passionate genius of poets, rappers and performance artists mostly under 21. From the rainy street, the high glass box room over Division and Milwaukee was a beacon; lit up with laughing, relaxed bodies and pumping hands and cheers, a bright spot of peace in community amidst a misty, murky night.
Inside, people were singing, rhyming, truth telling, sooth-saying, making each other laugh and call out and sigh. Folks were aware of the hinge of the hour… songs and stories touched on personal beliefs and politics sometimes… but there was no sense of anyone holding their breath; no sense that the calm, clear connectedness that was there in the room was pending or predicated upon anything outside.
The evening was hosted by the ever-wise-ever-present Jamila Woods, and in addition to the pleasure of the open-mic performers, I got to see and hear two people who featured along with me; Plus Sign and Jon Sands. Jon is a poet who has the patience it takes to give words to elements of experience that are fast and shimmering and so true and quiet and seemingly “given”, that they almost always go without saying. And when he says them, they become no less light, but more here, holdable, haveable. If you are ever hungry for hearing the truth told attentively, find him and listen.
Plus Sign was pure, unfettered creative energy moving through his words and music. I have never seen a performer more playful and free. I’m kind of at a loss to relate it. He changed from giddy love to reveling exploration of rhythm to rocking with cathartic grief to humorous play, and gave himself to all of us in all of it; offering in an ancient way to transform others through his transformation. It was beautiful.
When the event was over, people spilled out into the cold, rainy night. The electoral uncertainty was heavier at street-level, and we were shivering at the cold and possibilities. People pulled out phones, and a girl I walked past whispered, “Romney is winning, and both the House and Senate are going Red.” My stomach flipped, nauseous, and I started walking down Milwaukee in the rain, thinking of how much would be decided about the country I live in, about international relationships and the health of the planet, during the time it took to walk down that one long, diagonal block.
A new friend joined me, and I was grateful for his company. We laughed and marveled at the moment and were quiet in it too. We pressed our noses against bar windows with multiple flat-screens inside, and reported the news to drivers passing by. “Where are you going? What are your plans now?” He said. “I don’t know,” I said. I just want to walk while all this is happening.” “Lets then,” he said, and we did until we found a quiet place to settle down and sit and watch.
And all the rest is history. My own experience of watching the United States re-elect President Obama included a nervous stomach ache and jumps for joy and hugs and at least two bar stools being knocked over. The night was the perfect mix of shelter, sanctuary and company.
What was your election night was like? If you’d like to tell your story of it here, I’d love to hear. Please write in the reply section below!