On the morning of Election day 2008, I wrote the following post and shared it on Facebook. That night, I celebrated in Chicago’s Grant Park with tens of thousands of cheering, crying, hopeful people. As Barack Obama leaves office today, I thought I’d revisit it. So much of the awfulness we hoped to escape in 2008 is the same awfulness we’re afraid of plunging back into today, but it’s important to never lose hope, and it’s important to remember we made a lot of progress the past eight years.
As Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 dawns upon the world, a new energy ripples through the air.
It is not yet the twirl of wind turbines nor the quiet hum of solar powered vehicles. It is not yet the tumbling of smoke stacks nor the clatter of weapons falling to the ground in universal declarations of peace. It is not yet equality. It is not yet freedom.
It is not yet the understanding that all humans are equal, that as children each of us deserves a chance for knowledge and the promise of opportunity, that a united world can achieve the impossible, that evil does not fall squarely within the borders of a single nation or religion, that the most well-intentioned acts are likely to fail without adequate understanding and planning and reasoned debate, that fundamentally we are all hopeful travelers seeking happiness on a road ever and always twisting toward the unknown.
Instead, this new energy is hope.
Hope for each and every soul striding along that lonesome road. Hope for our own futures and those of our children. Hope for our families. Hope for the sick, for the dying, for the tortured, for the innocent victims of violence, of war, of genocide. Hope for the future generations of the world, that they might breathe untainted air and drink clean water, that they might come together to rid the world of hatred, of filth, of bigotry, and of poverty. It is a hope that too many conservatives dismiss as impractical idealism. But to them I say you are all underachieving dreamers.
This new energy is progress.
The advancement of civilization. The ransacking of traditional boundaries and institutions. The opening of eyes and minds for those who still judge by skin color, for those who fear sexuality in all its myriad forms, for those who cling to the ancient idea that morality is unattainable to anyone who denounces faith in the irrational. The world is shrinking. We encounter each other in new ways every day, and we witness our own values and beliefs through the eyes of those we may consider odd or unusual or weird. We must re-evaluate our perceptions. We all must learn empathy.
This new energy is intellectual liberty.
We escape now from years of regressive policy, years of sanctioned hate and division, years of intolerance, fear mongering, dishonesty and condescension. We must once again place education and fact before ignorance and opinion. We must teach the value of scientific theory and the merits of testable hypotheses. We must cherish honesty and openness from our elected officials and denounce those who treat us like uneducated and unintelligent idiots unworthy of the truth.
We must value the input of specialists and professionals who devote their lives to a particular field of study. Too often recently they’ve been replaced with young, unknowledgeable political hacks whose agendas and ideologies require the metaphorical shackling of Intellectualism to the walls of Purgatory, where, like scientific Cassandras, those who understand a topic must shout their knowledge to a world taught to ignore them. We do not and cannot know everything, but we should choose our sources wisely and refuse to listen to those who derive their awareness of a topic from the talking points churned out by a political party. Individual, analytical thought is a trait to be praised.
This new energy is revolution.
In 1800, when Thomas Jefferson became our third president, he viewed the election results as the final triumph of the American Revolution, as victory in the last battle of a war to overcome the tyrannies of aristocracy and privilege, as the ultimate realization of the dreams envisioned in the early 1770s and declared in the statement of a rebellious confederation’s independence during the summer of 1776. Jefferson had ousted a Federalist Party resistant to the democratic trend sweeping across the nation’s local governments, a Federalist Party content to place control and power in the hands of merchants and established elites, a Federalist Party fearful of Thomas Paine’s vision of self-governing democracy, and a Federalist Party that gave us the Sedition Acts, which made criticizing government officials a fineable and jailable offense.
Here we are now, 200 years later, ready to oust a political party which for years has spouted nonsense that policy criticism is tantamount to betrayal, that to challenge the lies of the President or to question the logic of a President’s decisions is to be a traitor, that to decry the violence of a war of choice is unpatriotic, that only the wealthiest citizens and the largest corporations are worthy of aid, that to engage in diplomacy in a world far more nuanced than any “with us or against us” philosophy can understand is to be un-American. John McCain has declared, “I am Federalist.” To which I respond, “We are Revolutionaries.”
Now is the time to elect an intelligent, articulate leader. Now is the time to elect a man who will bring transparency and reason back to public discourse and governance. Now is the time to elect a man who has already proven he is willing to speak on politically forbidden topics, and who will do so with sincerity, with dignity, and with mutual respect. Now is the time to elect a man who is anything but the spoiled son of privilege and wealth. Now is both a referendum on the failures of the past, an illustration of the sentiments of the present, and a clear vote for optimism, hope, peace and progress in the future.
Now is the time for Barack Obama, and today is our day to change the world.
Also published on Medium.