Out of breath, full of hope, we marched on the crowded sidewalks of Broadway and in one voice pleaded "New York State, Obama 0-8!" Two weeks left until the New York primary and a few hundred people gathered in Union Square for a march to Columbus Circle. A few hundred more marched down from Harlem also to convene in Columbus circle for a grassroots organized rally.
The most striking aspect of the walk was the looks that we got from unsuspecting bystanders. One man saw us through his store window and left his job unattended to join in our efforts, others applauded and cheered in approval. There were a few who shouted "Romney" or "Hillary" over our cries but the majority smiled at us, perplexed. The majority of marchers were young people, myself included.
My name is Sara Haile-Mariam, and I'm one of those young people that you keep hearing about. A college student who prior to this election was political inactive, and who since the emergence of Senator Obama has decided that public service is where my future lies. This post, however, is not about me. On the contrary, it's about the collective cynicism that has surfaced since that cold Saturday morning in January.
Flip flopper, opportunist, "typical politician", all of these characteristics have been attributed to the candidate who compelled me to choose action over complacency, and hope over fear. His faith, family, and origin have all been scrutinized as reporters scramble to prove that the man who seemed too good to be true, is in fact too good to be true. Even the most ardent supporters are frustrated and feel we've entered another election where hope is destined to be overpowered by fear.
This time is different, right? Maybe the only way this time will be different is if we respond differently. This election doesn't feel the same, to me at least, as it did a few short months ago. It feels as if we've lost our bearings as Obama supporters. As if we've forgotten that this election is less about the candidate then it is about what that candidate has compelled so many to do.
Before I get accused of being a mindless member of a cult of personality, understand that I am in no way suggesting that Senator Obama be given a free ride to the White House. What I am insisting is that the narrative that has overtaken the last few weeks of media coverage is wrong and it's up to us to fix it.
I don't agree with Senator Obama's vote on the FISA Bill, and yet, I'm thankful. A year ago I wouldn't have understood the ramifications and so his ability to draw me into the process, empowering me to have an opinion, is something to be celebrated. I think it's extraordinary that thousands of others felt empowered enough to confront him on it, on his website no less. Americans are starting to see the power of organizing on behalf of causes that we believe in. We've been empowered by his words, and that power has enabled us to insist on better. Still, the debacle over the Fisa controversy frustrated me. Placing so much of our hope on the candidate is crippling, where were the groups lobbying to other members of the Senate that voted for the bill? We can't assume that one man will agree with all of his supporters on everything. WE are the change we've been waiting for... remember? So before we stalk off yard signs in hand and insist upon keeping our donations and our time hostage, remember that he isn't the answer to all of our problems. He is the vehicle of the solution. He will be a President who will enlist the American people into a mission to change our country for the better. He will be a President who compels us to ask more of our leadership, understanding that we can disagree without being disagreeable.
What's happened to nuance and debate in politics? Refining a policy is now seen as blasphemy, even if the intention of the original policy was to be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. Evidently, consulting the Generals on the ground isn't seen as careful, it's seen as backtracking.
He seemed too good to be true, and yet his actions over the last few weeks are completely consistent with the man I was introduced to in The Audacity of Hope. Empathy and understanding, thoughtfulness and an unfaltering faith in the American people, that's the character of the candidate who I support. I spoke at a Woman for Obama Rally back in February during which I proclaimed " I think it's refreshing to have a candidate who finally gets it" he understands, as I said back then, "that change comes from the ground up but it also comes from the inside out". We've become so accustomed to cynicism and doubt that we've lost sight of the appeal of an Obama presidency. Government can't solve all of our problems, but it should be able to help. The rest is up to us; we must take hold of our individual responsibility and realize that we have an obligation to one another as Americans. Senator Obama never offered to be our saving grace; he's offered to provide us with incentives to save ourselves. He's motivated a nation to acknowledge that the stereotypes and categories that comprise our history are pitfalls in a society that values diversity. To understand that we are all tied together in a single strand of destiny.
In my more doubtful moments I think back on the people I've met who testify to how a-typical Senator Obama's candidacy is. I was canvassing in Maryland prior to their primary and a man in his 60s approached my friends and I outside of our hotel. He was apart of the youth movements of the 60s and after recounting his adventures he paused, tightened the grip on his cane, and stared me dead in the eye. "I can't move around like I used to" he said smiling, "but you can, get that man elected". I'm going to pour everything I have into this election, and I ask you to do the same, no matter what, everything you've got. Not for Senator Obama, but for the people that I've met who need him to win. People who can't afford one year, let alone four, of John McCains health care plan, or his insistence on continuing this irrational war. For people who value their right to choose, and who desire a considerate President. For the sensibility that comes with acknowledging that we can't lower taxes during a war, and the understanding that continuing the Bush tax cuts, when they aren't working, isn't going to make things any better.
They need us to not flip flop, to not allow the narrative of this election to affect our actions within it. We are responsible for insisting that the promise of this country is reflected in the lives of its citizens. Remember that change you can believe in is not reliant on a candidate; we, the American people, fuel it. Together, there is nothing we can't do.