What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I was sitting around my living room with a bunch of 30-something Black professionals eating Buffalo wings and checking off red states and blue states. Honestly, we were all a little shell shocked. Some of us had campaigned all over the country for Obama.
Others had just sat and watched in awe as history unfolded.
At 11 pm Eastern Standard Time, the west coast was called and Barack Obama was named the victor. We ran out of the house, celebrating with our neighbors. We all poured onto the street as cars stopped and honked their horns. Some folks jumped on the hood of their cars. Washington, DC partied in several locations until the wee hours of the morning. Each one of us held both a collective promise and individual expectation of what this presidency would mean for us. A year later, when I walk by the “Change We Can Believe In” poster, now mounted and framed in my hallway, I think about what that meant to me as an individual. It is only a year later that I more fully grasp how personal the belief was for so many. Yes, for some it was about Barack Obama, the personality. But for so many it was a vision of a different country, with improved priorities and ambitions. For many, the change meant universal health care and jobs.
For others it meant a close to the endless war in Iraq and a refreshed vision of American foreign policy. But no, in a year, we haven’t reached as far as many of us thought we would. That is the hard cold reality. Forces dedicated to maintaining the age-old power dynamics in our country refuse to give up without a fight. Many conservatives, from talk show pundits to the Louisiana justice of the peace, will only be happy if America stays exactly as it is. Corporations will continue to find ways to take money from decent hard working people under the guise of “free market democracy”. These battles will be long. They will be difficult and they will be personal. It is one thing to talk about change and joblessness; it is another to lose your job. It is one thing to talk about healthcare reform; it is another thing to be sick with no means to get better. It is one thing to despise war; it is another to be a refugee or someone who has been repeatedly deployed to the battlefield. And yet, despite these hard times, we are still called to the type of broad visionary action that we were a year ago. Listening to the radio this past week, I have been saddened to hear good people despairing to the point they are turning on each other. One African-American man was talking about “illegal” immigrants and how they are taking jobs from Americans. He talked about his progressive vision of the future and yet he still found someone in a weaker, more vulnerable position to pick on. In our community, we can’t afford to believe those lies. We can’t afford to sell out our undocumented brothers and sisters in the hope that a system that has despised us for centuries will despise them more. This is when believing in the change gets tough. This is even when we must remind our President of the platform on which he ran anytime we feel his actions are not bold or strident enough.
The parties are over. It’s time to get back to work. We need to remember what that change was that we believed in so strongly one year ago. We must work together collectively, and not against needs of others. The pie is big enough for all of us; we are the ones who dream too small. We are the only ones who can make the change we believe in.
Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.
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