Don’t Let Anybody Take That Away From You

For Your Reading

I have yet to digest the SOTU speech from tonight, but as I was clicking around my countless Firefox tabs, I came across a quote I put up on my Facebook profile just about a year ago. Here’s Obama at the OFA Staff Ball, in January 2009, speaking more candidly and openly than I’ve ever seen him speak since then:

When I look out and I see all of you, I think – I’m – Look at you, you’re just kids.

And maybe, maybe its because so many of you are so young, or at least young at heart – that, you could imagine what had not been done before. You didn’t know any better when people said I couldn’t win.

You didn’t understand when folks said, that’s not how it’s done. When people said, well you can’t raise money over the Internet, $25 at a time. You didn’t know, so you went ahead and raised another $25 at a time – “Yes – Yes We Can.”

But people said, well you – you can’t build a grassroots organization in all fifty states and – and have – have people just get on a website and decide, “Well I have hope for Obama and I’m just going to start organizing for him.”

People – you’re not supposed to be able to do that. But you guys just went ahead and did it – you didn’t know any better. You said, “Yes We Can.” […]

But, but here’s the thing – I guess, that’s most important to me – is that take the spirit, the culture of this campaign, and you keep applying it – not just to campaigns, that you – that – that sense – that sense of possibility that you guys can do anything, that you can reimagine the world, that you can lead, not by trying to manipulate your way – or – or – or push down somebody else to get your way – but, instead lead – you know – through the force of your example, and your discipline, and your creativity. […]

What an enormous force you’ve got inside yourselves – Don’t put that on the shelf and wait for the next four years – next week, next month, next year, for the rest of your lives – Cling on to that essential thing about you.

What made this campaign special was you.

And don’t let anybody forget – Don’t let anybody take that away from you. […]

You, together, can change the world.

When he said “Don’t let anybody take that away from you” — did he have the premonition that he, too, would lose that awesome, deity-like hold on his supporters some day? That the trials and decisions of governance would prove an affront to the idealism of the young people who worked so hard to get him elected? I keep wondering whether Obama  knew this would happen–the disillusionment. The imperfection and compromises of government, the lack of ideologically pure approaches to policy-making.

Perhaps the true lesson we should take away from working so hard to get Obama elected is that we can’t rely on “important” people, “powerful” people, to make our lives better anymore. Maybe that’s what he was trying to say. That he wanted our support, but not our reliance upon him, to make this country work better for the average person. For us.

State and local laws impact our lives far more than we give them credit for. We don’t have to move the nation to begin improving the lives of New Yorkers today. Look at Massachusetts — they already have a healthcare plan akin to what we’re desperately trying to pass at the federal level. Change CAN happen locally. And if there is an impasse at the national level because, oh, I don’t know, Democrats in DC don’t have any balls left to do what a near-super-majority elected them to do, then there ARE other avenues for action and activism.

That’s what I’m going to believe in and work towards for 2010.