Twelve years ago this week was the first time I distinctly remember voting in any election. The infamous 2000 election may or may not have been the first time I ever voted, but it was a blur in comparison to the George W. Bush/John Kerry cycle of 2004. (Attending undergrad out of state, I could have sent an absentee ballot or I may have actually been at home, but on everything I know, I seriously don’t remember.)
It was my first steady gig after undergrad, a low-paying, per diem internship at a boutique public relations firm in the Union Square section of Manhattan. In the prior weeks leading up to Election Day, there had been multiple rallies against the War on Terror at the nearby Union Square Park which, while largely embodied the freedom and spirit of prior generations, felt like the protestations of a bunch of well-to-do white kids who didn’t have to punch a clock just yet. As much of a nuisance as those rallies may have been, they were honestly harmless to the psyche as I could participate or walk away on my own accord. What was seared to memory, unfortunately, was going to work.
The only thing conservative at this firm was the color scheme of its walls (white and with nothing on them), but regardless of political learnings, the account executives, office manager and fellow interns were some of the brightest and kindest people you could work with in an industry not exactly renown for brightness or kindness. Yet, there was as great tension inside the company, largely created by its principal owners.
They were heavily liberal, with the ‘big idea’ owner (the original namesake of the company) less vocal about his learnings than the ‘financing’ owner, who admitted to being a checklist liberal – pretty much whatever Republicans hate, she checks off – on a regular basis as we got closer to Election Day. This was a bit weird because while some of my learnings were admittedly similar, growing up in black and brown communities in New York City taught me that even if people claim to be on the same team, there’s a chance that you’re not really teammates. This unfortunate fact proved to be the case when the agency spent October and the first week of November preparing for an Election Night party where it would host clients, friends in the media and whoever felt like mooching on its dime.
The openly ‘checklist liberal’ owner pretty much used the party as less about the agency and much, much more about herself. This wasn’t a shock to those of us who worked there, but in retrospect, it’s far more apparent as every single person who worked there left within four years because of her behavior. (There were likely other reasons, but after being passed over for a full-time position because she said I didn’t have “the look” for PR, my voluntary departure started a mass exodus of the firm months later.) The guest list was largely created by owners with the account execs having some invites of their own. The office manager handled all of the logistics while the interns pretty much… interned, or rather, gofered. Business didn’t shut down for the sake of the party, but the days leading up to it were incredibly chaotic.
(Now, before we move to this part, let me be fair to you, dear reader: this is largely how I remember the moment as the haze of twelve years could affect my recollection. However, I would bet that any of the former employees who were there can attest to that time.)
It was Monday, with all but two important decorations having arrived to the office. At some point in the afternoon, however, the icons of this soiree made their way upstairs. Specially made and shipped in from Mexico, two life-sized piñatas of George W. Bush were delivered. The ‘checklist liberal’ owner had the grand idea of whacking these things as the precincts were reporting in to national media, a way of beating the stuffing out of incumbent President as well as doing so at the ballot box. The problem was that these piñatas needed to go somewhere. After all, we were indoors. There were no trees, no polls, and in this particular space, no pillars to wrap anything around.
After going on non-stop errands that morning and early afternoon, I took a late lunch break to eat and gather myself, but what I saw when I returned shocked me to the core. As soon as the elevator to the office floor opened, I saw that one of the Bush piñatas was hung from the ceiling in the middle of the office. As I stepped out, to my left, I saw the other piñata hanging in the ceiling of the elevator bank.
You know, it’s one thing to read about or watch stories about the lynchings of African-Americans throughout American history, or to even be aware of its horrific presence across the ages of civilization. It’s a completely different, though, to witness not just one, but two nooses, used as some sort of comedic and cathartic props. Unquestionably, I wasn’t exactly a fan of the 43rd President of the United States, a dime a dozen in the so-called most liberal city in America. And yes, he was powerful, far from poor, and most certainly, white.
But to hang anything representing a person in effigy, even if this wasn’t as abhorrent as what we saw recently for a Wisconsin Badgers football game, was an absolute insult of my humanity. And yes, for those of you in the back, an insult of my blackness.
Now, let’s be real. Quite a few of you that are reading this are black and somewhat entrenched in your job after years in your profession. You’re feeling something pretty strong, and I’m going to guess that you’re saying something to the effect of “oh HELL NAH, I’d’ve walked right the f*** out!” Nope. In those shoes, no way in hell you would have left. To be completely honest, you have the faintest clue on what you would have done. No matter your pride, your conscious, your levels of woke, you’re currently thinking as someone who is years from trying to jumpstart your career. At 22 years old, fresh out of college and having yet to get the attention of a company for a full-time position, walking away from that small, but important paycheck wasn’t on the table. Nor was speaking out, nor was ripping the piñatas down, nor was even asking either of the firm owners about the appropriateness of putting a rope around the neck of anything, even if it was made of paper mache.
The remainder of the party preparations is pretty nondescript in comparison. There were pizzas being delivered, utensils to pick up, furniture to be moved and at some point, a change of attire. Guests began to arrive at around rush hour, familiar faces and new ones to greet until the rented projection screen showed CNN or whatever channel was decided upon that wasn’t FOX News.
I left at around 9, prior to the close of polls in the city. Like most of us who voted for Kerry, we were hoping that despite not having the strongest candidacy for the Donkeys, whatever those protesters on Union Square were angry about or our soldiers were dying for would have had some sort of finality by this night. Yet, as I walked towards 14th Street, I do recall looking behind me, staring northward at the Empire State Building a mile away, soaking in the rare silence of New York City.
I was supposed to be sullen, disappointed, or maybe infuriated at the shellacking the Senator from Massachusetts was taking. Yet, I couldn’t help but to love the quiet. It was a muting of liberals who doth protest too much, the under-the-table fist pumping of conservatives who still had no full understanding of what they wrought, and the rumble of a nearly empty subway underneath my feet.
That night was the only time I could ever say that I was glad that the ‘bad guys’ won.
Tomorrow, Election Day story #2.