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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Change We Seek

There was cheering, actual cheering in the streets at 11:01pm EST when the words “President Elect Obama” appeared on screens in homes across America. In Boston, it looked like the Red Sox had won another World Series. How proud I felt that finally my sport (politics) received the same kind of lavish celebration. A tear touched my check when I heard a car had been overturned in Brooklyn.

We deserve to be celebrating, feeling proud to be Americans, overjoyed that we have gone from enslaving African Americans to electing one our President in just 150 years.

Last night was powerful. And Barack Obama is a transformational figure for sure. But most powerful of all is the realization that it was not Barack Obama creating this change. It was us.

I was skeptical when Hillary and Barack both latched on to the word “Change” as a campaign theme. Those six letters fit nicely on a lawn sign, but “change” is not really an ideology to get behind…change into what? It’s the political equivalent of my favorite bumper sticker: “Anyone but this guy.”

But as the debates, speeches, interviews and SNL sketches made clear, things in America have gone so wrong that it’s funny. Without knowing how long or how far we’d been falling, we landed here. Here, the place and time where simply pointing out the need to do something (anything!) but what we have been doing for the last 8 years takes a certain amount of courage. Asking for change becomes a bold statement.

After the Primaries, I realized the c word (the nice one) wasn’t going away. John McCain jumped on the Change-wagon as well. “Yeah. Change. What they said.” He realized a while back that he better get on board, and that it was probably already too late. You could tell when he gave his concession speech that he’d been practicing it—a lot. Probably for about 7 months.
When I think of McCain’s campaign and the state of the country over the last 8 years, I think of another charming aphorism: “When you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Maybe we needed someone as articulate as Barack Obama to very eloquently tell us, “Hey Jackasses! Stop digging.”

Actually he phrased it more like this…“We are the change we seek in the world.” He’s one smart man. He seemed to get it long before the rest of us did. And that’s possibly the greatest gift Obama gave us…the courage to change the things we can.
The last 20 months weren’t easy, but we survived it. The grunting frat boy chants of “USA.” The crazy white haired lady who picked 400 random Floridians out of the phone book and sent them letters telling them that Obama is an A-rab. (Classy.) And empassioned statements that don’t actually mean anything (like Joe the Plumber’s outrage at his tax hike when we later discover he’s neither a plumber, nor will he receive a tax hike).

No one knows what the right answer is, but finally more than 50% of the country realized that this ain’t it. It’s like we all took one of those V8 juice smacks in the head….Ohhhh. We coulda’ had change. And now, we will.
As we continue to heal from the paralysis of fear after 9/11, we are finally, joyfully, taking our first wobbly steps toward the America we all just realized was still there.