Last Friday morning when I woke up, the last thing I expected to do was see President Obama speak later that afternoon. But a text from a friend who had secured tickets from Obama For America organizers changed my days' plans, and by noon I was on the road to Bryan-College Station, Texas.
I've only been to College Station twice in my life but I drove into the Bryan city limits with a nostalgia that I didn't expect to have. I remembered how I'd been cramped on a bus coming back from Albuquerque almost exactly a year ago when I saw on my Blackberry that the Bryan-College Station Eagle had endorsed Barack Obama for President, their first Democratic endorsement in 50 years. Hundreds of Austinites had been bussed to Albuquerque as part of a "Bus Ride for Change" event and, after driving for fourteen hours straight, we spent an entire weekend knocking on doors to get out the vote. When I saw the news alert about the endorsement, I yelled "Listen to this!" and with a captive audience of road weary volunteers, I read aloud the full text of the endorsement. When I arrived at the final line of the endorsement -- "With hope in our hearts and confidence in our choice, The Eagle recommends a vote for Barack Obama for president" -- a cheer erupted on the bus. It wasn't because we were glad the newspaper had finally come over to our side. It wasn't even because we'd spent the weekend being lectured, having doors slammed in our faces and getting chased by the occasional dog. It was that after all of that, we kept walking on, street by street, block by block. And because of our efforts, we all had a small, individual role in that endorsement and its sweeping change of precedent. It was, perhaps, our greatest accomplishment of the weekend.
So it was appropriate that Friday's topic for Obama's speech was to be about service, honoring the 20 year anniversary of George H.W. Bush's Points of Light Institute, its name taken from a line in his inauguration speech in January 1989. At the time, President Bush called for a "thousand points of light" contributing to the community through their service.
Obama lauded our forty-first president on his administration's commitment to service, but then paused for a moment before carefully saying that the role was not solely on the part of the government. "He didn't call for one blinding light shining from Washington," Obama said. "He didn't just call for a few bright lights from the biggest nonprofits; but he called for 'a vast galaxy of people and institutions working together to solve problems in their own backyard.'"
As he made one President's words his own, Obama's greatest asset and greatest flaw became stunningly clear. Obama embodies our "one blinding light" and we simply expect him to deliver. We are too easily blinded from the reality that we are the people who elected him and that we are the ones who have the ability to change things - not him. Obama has tried to remind us -- as he said in Denver at Invesco Field in 2008, "This election has never been about me. It's been about you."
We complain that he hasn't brought home the troops, while not bothering to do anything about it ourselves. If we truly want peace, we have to create it - not demand it, or whine about it, or wish for it. No one in the world wins the Nobel Peace Prize on their own. While the Peace Prize might have been a call to action for Obama's policy decisions, it is also a call to action for all of us.
On Saturday, a friend forwarded me an op-ed from The New York Times by Charles M. Blow. Titled "Impatiently Waiting," the op-ed questions why Obama hasn't managed to create the sweeping changes he promised on the campaign trail, citing "the president's quixotic quest for bipartisanship" as a hindrance to health care reform and complaining that Obama had merely "whisked into" New Orleans.
But Mr. Blow's first sentence most lazily sums up the expectations of our one blinding light:
I don't know how tirelessly Mr. Blow worked to get President Obama elected but I do know this: it's been a year since I slept on a crowded bus with a toilet reserved for "emergencies only" while driving fourteen hours to New Mexico. There's work to be done now, just like there was work to be done then.
When, Mr. President? When will your deeds catch up to your words? The people who worked tirelessly to get you elected are getting tired of waiting.
And if you, like Mr. Blow, are tired of waiting, then tear your eyes away from our nation's blinding light and start doing something.