I am listening to Barack Obama explain his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan. But I am really wondering how the millions of people who elected him, especially young people and communities of color, will respond.
2008 was a breakthrough year in American history. In part, this was because Obama's captivating personal background, deep and thoughtful writings, and poetic and uplifting speeches excited and electrified Americans who had felt ignored, exploited, and belittled by politicians their entire lives. He helped us all believe that real and meaningful political change was within our grasps.
But what also made 2008 a special year was the way in which those millions and millions of believers put their hopes into action--not just by voting in record numbers but also by reading and studying, writing and blogging, calling and texting, and ultimately going door-to-door to every stretch of every state in the union to spread a message of change we can believe in.
And yet, here we find ourselves a year later confronting the promise of more war. War: that most dehumanizing and destructive act which threatens the annihilation of all that is beautiful in the world.
True, Obama did warn us during the campaign that he would focus our national defense on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. So this order should not come as a total surprise.
Still, it was never Obama's policies that were most inspiring. Hillary's policy proposals were not that different and some of them were even superior. What moved diverse millions of Americans in an unprecedented manner was Obama's ability to channel the spirit of Dr. King and the progressive movements that have expanded our humanity.
Obama spoke of the "fierce urgency of now." He told us not to believe in his ability to bring about change but in our collective ability to change the course of history. When Aretha Franklin's sweet voice sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee," it felt like nothing less than the dawn of a new era, a new nation, and a new sense of purpose.
So we ought to demand more from him than the tired trope that we can only achieve peace by waging war. This means we need to challenge ourselves.
It was easy to speak out and stand united when Bush was waging his reckless war of choice in Iraq while Cheney and the neocons were spouting outlandish claims that the Middle East would welcome an American invasion and occupation.
And it was easy to campaign and vote for Obama when the alternative prospect was cranky old McCain and the blissfully reactionary Palin.
Now we need to question and challenge the decision of a president who has proven himself to be intelligent, sensitive, and caring. We need to hold him to his word that he did not just want to end the war but also "end the mindset that got us into war in the first place."
That war mindset did not just exist in the heads of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield, and it can't be erased by voting their kind out of office. The war mindset prevails so long as our government remains under the influence of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex.
It prevails so long as the commander-in-chief is surrounded by advisors who are trained to believe that thinking strategically primarily means identifying enemies and threats. And so long as they think of national interests in terms of accessing resources from places beyond our borders and exerting power over peoples in other parts of the world.
Now that Obama occupies the Oval Office with all the promise he represents, it's time for the millions and millions who put him there to continue the struggle. We need to keep raising our expectations, to keep working for the true change that can only come from the bottom up, and to keep finding strength in each other when faced with adversity.
We need to hold Obama to the standard set by the Martin Luther King, who said that winning the Nobel Peace Prize imparted in him a new "burden of responsibility... to work harder than I had ever worked before for 'the brotherhood of man.' This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances."
"Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war," King said in 1967. "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land."
While Afghanistan is not Vietnam, the urgency for peace is even greater today. And yet protest is not enough. We need to overwhelm the White House with our love. The love that Dr. King called agape--the love for humanity that leads men and women to go to any length to create the beloved community.
We need to replace those currently surrounding the president--advisers whose job is to prepare for, plan, and wage war--with real peace experts, with women and men whose mission, purpose, training, and experience are devoted to understanding and implementing Dr. King's vision of creative nonviolence.
In 2008, the "yes, we can" millions did something the pundits once deemed impossible. Hope triumphed over fear.
That battle was won, but the war rages on.