By Vanessa Bell, Emerge Maine Class of 2013
If you would have asked me 10 years ago to join Emerge, I would have looked at you like you were crazy! I didn’t really follow politics, and, until recently, I was honestly not that interested in it. However, back in college, being curious about protesting in general, I did protest George W. when he came to campus. There I was, in the front line of protesters, when I first noticed the cop eyeing me down. Curious, I looked around the cop, and moved to the side to look around him when he menacingly said, “Go ahead, take one more step! Do it!” I wasn’t being violent. I was just standing there. Yet I could see in the officer’s eyes that he wanted to take me down. At that time Pittsburgh PD had a rep for being the “black and blue” police force, so I stood down fairly quickly. I momentarily flirted with the idea of taking another step forward, but honestly feared what he would do to me. I also feared that it would somehow ruin a future career that I hadn’t even chosen yet. I hated every bit of those feelings.
In a very real way, this officer instilled in me a hatred towards politics. Somehow, he reinforced my feelings that it was all about money, lies and power. Now, keep in mind that I was barely eligible to vote when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. I was ashamed of our President. To me, a great President is supposed to be a role model for all; a leader who leads by example. As a child of divorce, Clinton’s actions infuriated me. So, between Clinton’s actions and that officer threatening to beat me, I felt very adverse towards politics. It certainly didn’t help that I also thought I would never see a great President in my life time. I was the generation John Mayer sang about in his song, Waiting on the World to Change. I felt helpless. I felt I had no business being in politics. However, being an optimist I did have hope that, “one day our generation [was] gonna rule the population” and politics would get better.
Hope. Change. “Change we can believe in.” In 2008, those words made me look at the TV twice. I couldn’t believe my ears. Every time I heard then-Senator Barack Obama speak, he fired me up and made me cry. (I had my first child in the fall of 2007, so I was still in the joyful crying phase!) He connected to me; not in a formal press speech, but via my email and live streaming from the White House on the web. Finally, a politician that really did want to reach everyone! I was pretty tied up with my new child and full time work, but I truly wanted then-Senator Obama to win, so I had to at least do something. I started talking about politics, researching candidates and reaching out to others. At the time I worked in policy on the local level, so I looked for ways to connect those local issues for which I was passionate to the national level. For me, a passion had been ignited. I was on the edge of my seat election night and nearly cried when the final results were announced.
Fast forward to today and here I am writing as a student of Emerge and using my spare time to help local Dems and President Obama get re-elected. I’m even Chair of the Topsham Democrats too! What a difference a little bit of hope can make…