02/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Viva Obama! Now Let's Get to Work

More than a few self-proclaimed "radicals" have expressed mixed feelings about Barack Obama's successful -- and now official -- bid for the U.S. presidency. The line of reasoning for these holdouts has been that (a) the American system is inherently racist, militaristic, and capitalistic, and (b) a progressive President can only serve to perpetuate this misbegotten experiment based on elitism and hierarchical rule. To this, while sensitive to their claims, I must publicly object.

You would have to be immensely hardhearted not to be moved by Obama's election and inauguration. One would have to be some sort of disaster junkie or post-apocalyptic cheerleader to truly hope that the new President fails. We can still be critical -- and we absolutely must be -- even as we appreciate the magnitude of the moment. To root for Obama's success, simply put, does not render us compliant and pacified, but rather acknowledges the sense of lifting clouds and the appearance of room to roam.

Memories can be short, but the last eight years have been dark ones indeed. How many marches did we attend, letters did we write, banners did we drop, arrests did we suffer, and friends did we lose? It will be tempting to try and forget how this new millennium started and what the recent past hath wrought, and we should look toward the future with hopefulness no matter our political bent. In the end, there's nothing particularly radical about cynicism, and in fact that kind of spirit actually smacks more of the tenor of the former administration that was so deservedly reviled.

Yes, the picture of Bush taking off from D.C. -- to crowds chanting, "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye" -- stood out for me as a landmark moment. Obama's calm visage, even as the supremely disappointing Chief Justice supremely botched the oath of office, stands out as well. The multicolored pictures of the crowds were certainly moving, but even more so they struck me as being very normal in a way -- this is simply what "we the people" look like. And Obama's speech itself restored rhetorical competence to the office, calling upon people to exercise responsibility and to seek 'unity in diversity' both here and across the globe. Surely radicals can find a kernel of kinship in these words.

Okay, let's not be Pollyannaish about this. We all will need to work, work, and work some more to turn this old world around. The good news is that the new President -- a "fellow citizen," in his own words -- actually seems predisposed to listen to us and encourage our initiative. He's youthful and, well, kind of cool. He replaces one of the worst presidents in history -- certainly the worst in generations -- and steps into a hornets' nest of challenges, from climate change to economic entropy to a military morass. But it would be a grave mistake to root for his failure in meeting these challenges, and for the issues themselves to spiral further downward; not only will the next paradigm be harder to launch under such circumstances, but the people on the bottom rungs would be disproportionately and negatively impacted.

So at the risk of alienating some of my self-alienating friends, I'm hoping for Obama to succeed, and more importantly I'm hoping for people power to rise up in the process. Crisis and fear may be motivating in some instances, but oftentimes merely serve to move us away from that which we reject and oppose. Opportunity and hope, on the other hand, need not bring passivity but can open a space to imagine and create that for which we will stand. This is the message of the day, and there's no shame in embracing it. Indeed, the most radical thing we can do right now is get to work, with optimism in our hearts, in making a better world for ourselves and for the future.