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What Lasting Change Requires: The Hard Truth About Hard Work in the President's Speech

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Remember that sick-to-the-stomach feeling we woke up with the day after George W. was re-elected in 2004? We had spent the previous days phone-banking with friends, calling Nevada and Florida and Ohio, imploring strangers to vote for change. Not enough of them did. We were discouraged and frustrated -- despite all our hard work, the bad guys won. Again.

Remember that joy we woke up with the day after Obama was elected president four years ago? We had spent the previous weeks and months knocking on doors in Nevada and Florida and Ohio, imploring strangers to vote for change. More than enough of them did. We were thrilled and elated -- because of all our hard work, the good guys won.

For a lot of us, we thought electing Obama was the work. Change would simply come, and things would be different. That is why I appreciated the president's somber speech from Charlotte. I know a lot of people were disappointed by the lack of soaring rhetoric, but I was grateful for the reminder of how much more hard work is required of us. When Obama said, "It will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," he was acknowledging the bitter truth few of us like to face. We only need look back at our past victories to see how sustained our effort must be this time around.

Take the Civil Rights Movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began in 1955, yet it took another nine years -- years of bombings and blocked bridges and Bull Connor -- for President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and then another year for the Voting Rights Act. And still the job wasn't -- and isn't -- finished.

Take the Depression. When FDR was first elected in 1932, the country had already been pounded by three years of horrific economic news. And you know what? The bad news didn't fully abate in FDR's first term. Nor did it fully abate in his second. Some of his policies helped, others didn't, but he and the Democrats kept working in the face of a hostile Supreme Court and right-wing demagogues (sound familiar?).

In our hurry-up, fix-it-NOW society, we expect problems to be solved and solved quickly. We forget the crucial lessons of past battles: Change takes time, and changes takes persistent work. And then more time and more work. Because there will be missteps and bumps in the road and days when it just doesn't seem like there's anything left to give.

This is not to say we haven't tasted our fair share of victories these past four years. I've written for this publication about how much Obama and the Democrats have already accomplished (and this was before the president came out in favor of gay marriage and before he stopped the deportation of Dream Act-eligible students). This is only to remind ourselves that despite the fact that, as the president said, our "hope has been tested," we must not let "other voices fill the void."

Because our opponents are trying to do just that this election. They are better funded -- much -- and they are trying to rig the game by rolling back voting rights. They are also trying to break our spirit. With cruel taunts, they have resorted to malicious mockery to make us feel foolish and naive for ever having hung a 'Hope' sign. They want us to believe that 'change' was an empty idea and give up. Fighting back against this cynicism will require engaged effort on our parts. More than we gave four years ago, more than we gave in 2004.

And if we do enough? If we make enough calls and knock on enough doors and register enough voters? If indeed we wake up on Nov. 7 joyous once again because President Obama has been re-elected? Well, then it will be time to get back to work.