The Courage to Change

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Sam Sedaei Senior Director of Iran Programs at Nonviolence International, Documentary Producer

As we enter the last few days before the Iowa caucuses, many democrats and independents remain undecided about who they would want to support for president. As in the case of Barack Obama, while many are very close to putting their trust in him, but one thing prevents them from taking that final step. That element is rooted in what humans have always grappled with; it is the reason why they rejected the sun-centered model of the universe for over 1,500 years after it was first suggested by Aristarchus; it was also what was shaking me with doubt as I was about to get on a plane and come to the United States from Iran on my own at age sixteen, leaving the comfort of my family for what was only a promise for a better life; that element is our tendency to lack the courage to change.

Change has been the core message of Obama's platform from the beginning. This message has resonated with voters so much over the last few months that now, it seems like all the candidates are talking about change. But for a number of reasons, Obama's promise of change appears more credible than any other candidate's. This is in part due to the fact that he is the first American of African descent who has a real chance of winning the White House. But it goes beyond that. While change has often been nothing more than a hollow promise that a politician makes simply by uttering that word in a speech over and over, Obama has embodied of change from his beginning.

Obama's representation of change began when he was born to a white mother and black father at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in 16 states until the Supreme Court struck down such bans in 1967. The opportunity he had to live abroad as a child was also an atypical experience that gave him what Boston Globe called in its endorsement of him an "intuitive sense of the wider world." Just as Obama's parents showed the courage to change, he himself showed an incredible amount of resolve and courage when he turned his life around and moved from a short-term self-destructive behavior in his youth to going to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, rejecting peer pressures of the times and the destructive notion that a black youth with a book is acting white.

Through advancements in college and law school, he brought about change by proving wrong the centuries-long claims that people with his racial background could not or should not pursue excellence. Through his service as a community organizer, civil rights attorney and law professor, he once again rejected claims that Americans of African descent did not adequately contribute to society. And throughout his service in the Illinois Senate and United States Senate, he cleared any doubt about his ability to serve this country as honorably and effectively as any other public servant.

All the other candidates on both sides seem to believe that the more partisanship and despise they show toward the other side and the more radical they sound, the more their message of change resonates with people. But Obama has rejected those methods of a traditional Washington campaign. Instead, he has been able to bring independents to the democratic side by refusing to portray the election between republicans and democrats as a struggle between good and evil or a series of battles to fight, but rather, a series of challenges to address and overcome together as a country. While his policies are among the most progressive in the Democratic Party, Obama's lack of divisiveness has brought people who have never participated before into the political process. Obama has in fact already brought about such a thing as an "Obama Republican" just as President Reagan brought about "Reagan Democrats."

However, while most of us believe that going beyond convention and partisan politics is what we need right now to address our nonpartisan problems, such as global warming or dependence on foreign oil, some still have not gone far enough to officially support this change. This is because while we like the idea of change, most of us are afraid of it when its prospects become so real and accessible. Deep down inside, we are not comfortable with change because change can mean uncertainty, unpredictability and sometimes even a lack of control. In fact, it can seem a lot more comfortable in the short run to live with the certainty of mediocre conditions and only the belief that things can be better than to actually do what we have to do to make things better.

But nothing is free, and just like anything else, change and progress will not come for free. In national politics, a true change and departure from the kind of gridlock and partisan politics that have paralyzed this country requires two things: a leader who can offer a credible message to deliver change, and the people who would embrace that leader in that mission. Throughout his entire life, Obama has proven that, be it as a young student at Columbia and Harvard, community organizer in the Southside of Chicago, civil rights attorney, a State Senator or U.S. Senator. Every time he has been trusted to bring about unprecedented change and departure from convention and tradition, he has delivered on that promise.

But after showing a life-time of change, Obama is posing a challenge to the American people; it is the same challenge that was posed by another new candidate on the national stage - Bill Clinton - fifteen years ago: That challenge is for us to depart from the security of convention and act on the belief that we all hold deep down inside, which is that things can be better.

We do not just need a change in policies; we need a change in politics, and Obama is the person with the best prospect to bring about that change. Just as this country accepted Clinton's message of change, it is time for anyone who is looking for positive change in this election to support the single candidate who offers the best prospect of bringing it into reality. That candidate is Barack Obama.