Tuesday, January 10, 2017

thanks, obama

In 2004, I was sick for a long time. I was sick, and my country was sick.  Soldiers, civilians were dying in Iraq, and Americans seemed to have lost sight of why we were there—if we even knew to begin with.  Repulsive photographs of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were released.  Genocide raged in Darfur.
I was feeling hopeless. 

On July 27, 2004, I watched the Democratic National Convention.  Political conventions are a parade of somebodies and nobodies, and this next guy up was a nobody.  Some no-name, weird-name guy from Chicago, an Illinois state senator who was running for the U.S. Senate was introducing John Kerry, though, so I listened.

I sat by myself in the living room, occupying my mother’s chair while the night was cooling from the hot day.  With clarity, I remember sitting there in the dark because it was a striking moment in my life.  At the end of that no name man's speech about unity and civic responsibility and the American dream, after this soaring treatise on hope—I said these words aloud to myself:  “I want him as my president.”

Barack Obama told me to believe in America.  And when he spoke, it gave me hope, not only because he shared my principles of fairness and equality, but because at a time when the country and I were sick , I remember thinking that I believed what he was saying.  And even more noteworthy, I believed that he believed in his own rhetoric.  

Listen to his words:
I'm not talking about blind optimism here, the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!

In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. America!

Barack Obama believed that the American dream was possible.  And it gave me hope.  It’s a corny story, but it’s a true story.

Four years later, I skated around some icy streets in Iowa to beg people to caucus for Obama.  I took a bus and knocked doors in Ohio.  I organized in Virginia.  I called all over the nation to persuade voters.  I learned more about the United States working for Obama than I ever have before.  I learned to be hopeful. 

And my hopes were realized; he was elected.  And he led us.  His hope, my hope, our hope that the vision of shared responsibility and respect for one another triumphed.   And I am so proud to have worked on his behalf so that he could work on my behalf.  I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but I didn’t expect to.  I expected him to try to give everyone a fair shot at the American dream.  I expected him to roll up his sleeves and do his best to advance the project of America. I expected him to bring optimism and dignity and leadership and respect to the highest office in the land.  And he did.  And I am grateful.

I just listened again to that 2004 speech.  I encourage you to do the same.  It still gives me hope, even in the time when we’re anticipating a very different president, especially now it gives me hope.  Listen to his words.  We might need them now even more than we did then:

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Thanks, Obama.  In honor of your service to the country, my wish is that this country will carry your hope forward beyond your term.

As for you, gentle reader, it’s easy to feel hope when things are going well.  But we don’t need it then, do we?  So, I appeal to you, especially to those people I was so honored to meet as a part of my participation in the Obama campaigns---Are you fired up and ready to go?  Because we need that enthusiasm now, my friends.  And plenty of hope.

Here's the speech:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWynt87PaJ0