If you're wondering what it was like to be in the swing state of New Hampshire the day before Election Day, I can tell you firsthand that the energy was as colorful as the foliage. I can't remember a time in my adult life when I've felt more uncomfortable in my hometown — and that's saying something. When I left the Granite State at 17, I wanted to lock up my entire experience in a vault and never open it again. That's easier said than done — as anyone who's run away from their problems can tell you — but the lack of diversity in my state promoted an ignorance that, as a teenager, I felt I carried alone on my shoulders.
Being different was never not an option for me as a black woman in New Hampshire. Even though I long for the crisp, clean air, the beautiful big fir trees, and the sarcastic New England humor, it only takes a few hours for me back home before I feel totally out of place.
Still, I knew I had to be present for Election Day. I wanted to have my neighbor look me in the eye before he marked Trump for president. It felt like an incredibly powerful idea — until I got to town. For one thing, I was reminded of how anxious I felt voting during the last election (verdict is still out if Mitt Romney stressed me out enough to give me shingles or not). Looking at all the anti-Hillary signs, I knew I had to ease into the day slowly, so I went to talk with the friendly staff at a local coffee shop.
One staffer told me, "I didn't even think to register because I have to work." Before I could remind her that New Hampshire has same-day voter registration, I remembered my days in the service industry. Taking time out of a busy shift to vote wouldn't have gotten me fired, but it could cost me a couple hundred bucks that I wouldn't have been able to afford. Point taken. This was actually the feeling of many people in the service industry I spoke to; they felt that the election didn't pertain to them because their lives would be exactly the same regardless.
Finishing my coffee, I headed off with my ticket to see President Obama speak on behalf of the Clinton-Kaine team.
Signage outside local business in Hudson, NH
I was excited to see Obama; Obamacare changed everything for me. I no longer had to work a job just for healthcare, or worry that I wouldn't be able to afford catching a cold. Waiting for Obama to speak, I realized I was going to have a hard time saying goodbye, and I felt real anxiety over the potential changeover to a Republican White House.
Fortunately, the over 10,000 people packed into the Whittemore center at
UNH seemed to share my sentiments. I spoke with
Mollene, who traveled three hours from Vermont with her friend to see President
Obama speak and show her support for Hillary. Mollene didn't seem to care that her crutches keep falling on the ground as
we waited outside. She told me she doesn't know how long she'll be on crutches, that her condition is genetic.
Mollene and her friend pose wit hope for Clinton and Kaine
Mollene told me that her family back in Sweden is as worried about Election Day as we are. They worry that without Obamacare, she won't be able to afford her healthcare, and she confessed that the anxiety of potentially losing coverage is unthinkable to her. I told her I was worried too.
Entertaining myself while waiting for Obama
The crowd erupted as Obama finally took the stage. He was his incredibly charming self, engaging us with stories of his first campaign, giving us that Obama hope that I had grown to love and depend on.
It occurred to me that I had never supported a president before Obama; having him as president was the first time I felt even partially protected in America. As his time as president comes to an end, he promised we'll be in good hands with Hillary Clinton. I really hope so, too.
After leaving the rally, I felt more positive about the fate
of New Hampshire than I had that morning. But as I started my journey back, curiosity
got the best of me somewhere between Durham and Hudson, NH — and I found myself
stopping at Southern New Hampshire University for Donald Trump's rally. As soon as I started looking for parking, I felt a sense of
anxiety so strong I almost turned around.
The crowd erupted in chants of "Lock Her Up." During the chant, an older man leaned into me and asked me what was on top of my head. Startled and terrified, I reached for my head and felt my scarf — I decided it was probably time to go. The crowd continued with chants of "Blue Lives Matter."
Outside the arena, I met a black man selling "Make America Great Again" hats, and who told me that one would look great over my headwrap. He wasn't the only black person outside the rally with Trump paraphernalia; there were a few men who guided me to the correct line with "Veterans for Trump" signs.
A man outside SNHU Arena sells "Make America Great Again" hats
Outside the Trump rally
I wasn't surprised seeing black Trump supporters, but I was slightly suspicious of my new hat-selling friend's political stance. I couldn't help but ask, "Are you a supporter or are you just selling hats?" He side-stepped the question and as the line started to move, he told me he was "worried about me" in a half-joking way. I told him, "I am too" and entered into the Trump/Pense rally.
The crowd chants "Blue Lives Matter"
It was dark inside the arena, and there was a disgustingly thick, smoky air in the crowd that I wish I was making up. I spoke to a veteran who crossly pointed out that my bag was unzipped. He told me Hillary was a liar, Obama was a liar, and even Jesus Christ was a liar, and then went down a laundry list of liars who seemed to include his family members. I nodded my head slowly, suppressing a giggle, and told him he "had me at Jesus Christ."
The only other black people I saw inside were the members of the secret service, and while there were plenty of women in the crowd, I felt too exposed and scared as a black woman to talk to other voters.
Once Pence took the stage, he spoke not of what the Trump/Pence administration
will do for America, but what Hillary Clinton has previously done to America. When he compared Obamacare to a phone that spontaneously combusted, he told the crowd it was once called "Hillarycare." The crowd erupted in chants of "Lock Her Up." During the
chant, an older man leaned into me and asked me what was on top of my head. Startled and terrified, I reached for my head and felt my scarf — I decided
it was probably time to go. The crowd continued with chants of "Blue Lives Matter."
Trump fans wave signs, angrily chanting "Lock her Up"
As I left the volatile crowd behind me, I felt an immediate need for a shower, meditation, and/or a cocktail. After spending the entire day traveling to different towns to gauge the pre-election day emotions of my swinging home state, I still wasn't certain which way NH will lean this Election Day. One thing I became certain of, though: Republican or Democrat, we are all hungry for change. I just hope the change America chooses moves us forward.
Images: Kristin Collins Jackson