(For those who've already seen this piece, please pardon the re-run.)
On the night before the inauguration of President Barack Obama, i wrote a piece that a few folks encouraged me to submit to the New York Time Op-Ed page. As expected, it wasn't selected, so i wanted to post a public version (with a few inconsequential edits) for folks to share.
Thanks to everyone who has been encouraging my writing endeavors of late (including by catching errors and making suggestions). Please know that i continue to welcome honest feedback from anyone (especially as i occasionally entertain the idea of trying to write semi-professionally at some point).
I sit here on the quiet eve of the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama, considering how charged with expectation and hope this night must be for so many Americans. Tomorrow will certainly mark the consummation of some dramatically unprecedented events in our history, and for many it represents a sharp turn in the perceived direction of the nation.
I agree with this sentiment, but perhaps not in exactly the same way that many do. I believe that a great era of change -- or rather, the opportunity for change -- begins tomorrow, but it is not to be ushered in solely by a new executive administration. We may decide in retrospect that this change will have been catalyzed by the welcoming of President Obama to the global stage, but the burden of responsibility lies first and foremost with the people of the United States. Even more specifically, and perhaps ironically, it rests most upon the shoulders of those who might feel most relieved at his long-anticipated ascension to the White House.
This idea may not come as any surprise, nor even as a concern to some. Obama's campaign, like his inauguration, represents an unprecedented motivation on the part of many Americans to participate, organize, and lend their part to a larger effort championed by a true leader -- i.e., one who is expected to lead, not just rise to power and somehow work miracles. In this regard, anyone who is supporting Obama -- either avidly or quietly -- may well be anticipating some of the weight of the task ahead of us.
The task here, however, is not merely activism, as many may assume. The engagement in activism alone breeds a poison that can well spoil the real potential gains won by the successful campaign that brings Barack Obama to the Presidency. Activism carries with it a connotation that the time has come for the warriors espousing the long-ignored issues associated with liberalism (even moderate liberalism) to finally rise up in arms, banners waving and swords aflame. The image of activism portrays the contrast of the Obama age to the Bush era as "our turn", a period of retaliatory progressivism aimed largely at "undoing the damage" of some dark time. To embrace this image is to squander the real opportunity that lay before us: that of unity.
The real issues of our time that most Obama-supporters eagerly prepare to attack -- the ailing economy, national health care, climate change, and so on -- are indeed important and timely ones. To devote our newfound motivations to these alone, however, is only to push upon the massive pendulum of political sway that will almost inevitably push back with equal persistence, be it four or eight or fifty years from now. Those who wish to truly make the most of what Obama's campaign has fostered -- be it by accident or by design -- must take on the greater challenge of resisting the urge to capitalize in the short term and instead make the wiser investment.
The true opportunity presented to us by the energy of the President-Elect's success (and embodied in the impressively bold concession speech of his opponent) is the chance to break down the "us and them" mentality that has crippled American politics and soiled our great nation for far too long. We have perhaps the best chance in many decades to transcend the world of fronts and trenches portrayed to us by a conflict-peddling media and by extremist agendas all urging us to falsely believe that we need to choose a side. We have what may be a unique opportunity to build a nation of compassion and camaraderie to carry us into a 21st Century world that we, as a people, truly deserve and of which we can be proud.
Despite my utter distaste for labels and for our nation's disgracefully partisan politics, I must admit to being one of those many people who are thankfully hopeful about the promise of the Obama Presidency. As such, i turn first to my fellows in this outlook and ask that we rise to the challenge of embracing this opportunity, despite the temptation that our pride might put before us. We must resist the urge to be smug and self-righteous. We must not allow ourselves the luxury of being quick- or heavy-handed in our actions, should the opportunity to pass judgment ever arise. We must rise above the natural and desperate human inclination to belong to the better tribe, because the cost of yielding to this seduction is far greater than we can immediately see.
It is in this call to rise most of all that i broaden my voice to every American, regardless of the life you lead, the vote you cast, or the higher power you revere. It's time to forget our bumper stickers and slogans. It's time to use our faiths and ideals to endear us to our fellows instead of to distinguish us from our enemies. It's time to let go of the need to paint colors upon ourselves and others for the sake of war. It's time to stop drawing lines in the sand so that we can point and scream and beat our chests.
Forget the letter to your Congressman and the check to your favorite political cause this month. It's time to embrace a new kind of activism. Reach out and find a pen pal on the other side of the fence, be it the one on the political spectrum or the one out in the yard. Spend the activism budget to directly aid your community, without so much regard for the affiliations associated with the name on the check. Spend some time discovering how much you have in common with some other would-be faction of the human race. Open your heart and reach through the wall to find at last that the partition is not there.
If there has ever been a recent time for our nation to embody the grace that makes us divine, that time is now. Let us not merely seek change; let us seek the change that unifies us, because it more than any other is change that can last.
©2009 J. Mancuso