8.28.2008

Yes. We. Can.

I just watched Barack Obama make his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination and I am at a loss for action, for words to express the kind of rabid optimism and desperate hope I feel for the future of my nation. As a member of the most liberal state in our union, I find my options limited with regard to what I can do to help the person I believe can most change our future; picketing for Obama on the streets of Brooklyn feels inefficient. I come, therefore, back to this space which seems to reach more and more people every week (and how grateful I am to hear from all of you!); I will try to use my words, the only tools I have, to express how badly I want things to change in my country. We are close enough to taste the change; we are desperate to believe that we are not each lonely exceptions in our home land.

There are a few fundamental truths I believe as an American:
1. I can achieve what I want if I work hard enough.
2. I should help those around me.
3. I should not expect that life will be easy, but rather appreciate that I am not alone when facing its challenges.

Corollaries of these truths include the fact that I understand that I must pay taxes. How else should my country provide for me! Also included is the knowledge that a country of such power and wealth may need to help another people, whether in financial or political need. There is no grace in bullying; there is no pride in fixing fights. The America that I cite as the genesis for my values believes all of these things.

On September 11, 2001, I was spending my third day as a foreign student in Aix-en-Provence, France. I was living with a host family who spoke no English and was sent home from my classes early to watch the television. I didn't understand the words at the time, (the language was too fast for me), but I watched images of towers falling and pieced the story together over the days and weeks of the semester that came ahead.

I remember that semester as a time when French people left flowers outside our American Center, when my anger and disbelief towards the terrorists was matched by foreigners' willingness to defend my country. I arrived home in mid-December 2001 to a land that flew flags on the overpasses of highways, to posters of images of firefighters that hung on every telephone pole in Manhattan. The severity and loss of September 11 didn't hit me until months after I returned home when I read an article in a magazine about all of the babies born since the attacks, whose fathers perished that day. I sobbed into the magazine, unhinged, arrogant with anger.

I've now spent much of my adult life under the reign of George Bush and long for the days when we had allies, when our country's arrogant reputation didn't appear in every pop culture movie (Love Actually, anyone?), when I could say the sentence "Je suis americaine" without cringing after the last syllable.

How many times have I been embarrassed, ashamed to admit that I'm an American, particularly after my president makes another faux-pas on the world's stage. How grateful have I been to have the opportunity to travel and, in some slight way, be an ambassador for a country whose strengths and inherent hopefulness have been clouded over the past 8 years!

I do not understand how people my age do not vote; I do not understand how women do not vote; I do not understand how people complain about the world around them and yet do not take the time to educate themselves on the structures through which we can change it. We are ridiculously lucky to have been born in the social, financial, and cultural places where we live; it seems ignorant at best to withhold the gratitude we owe for such luck.

Weeks ago, a friend at work mentioned he wished Al Gore would be chosen as Obama's VP. "Fat chance," I responded, citing all the reasons I'd heard to the contrary. "But that would be pretty amazing."
"So then why not hope for it? What do you have to lose?" he responded.

Our histories and experiences do a pretty decent job of breaking down hope; it is hard work to look in the face of dark odds and believe. Choosing to believe, choosing to hope, is not the easy way out. But it is the goddamn best way, it is the only way we will make the hope a reality.

Believing is not wussy. Hoping is not weak. The two meet, rather, at a crossroads where the truly special people are, the people who have magic inside them.

These are the only people I want to know.

5 comments:

kidwonder said...

I did not see the speech but I did read the transcript online. I enjoyed the many policy details as he often rides the emotion wave without really addressing specifics. I will admit, enthusiasm is unavoidable when reading that speech. I also enjoyed the direct and undeniable criticism for both McCain and Bush. Openly referring to Bush's time in office as a failed presidency was a great touch and he definitely ended on a high note. Here's hoping that all this enthusiasm isn't for naught.

Chris LoSacco said...

Great post.

Katie said...

Wow. I completely agree and will continue to pass your message along.

Suffragettes said...

Wow, great post. Very clever and emotionnal at the same time.

Lindsay B. said...

YES WE CAN!!! Loved this essay jen : ) coming to nashville for vacay anytime soon?