As we absorb the historic significance of last Tuesday’s election results and move on with our lives, I suddenly feel a sense of renewal and hope that I haven’t EVER felt after an election, and probably have NEVER felt in my lifetime thus far. I liken the feeling to what our parents’ generation must have felt when JFK was elected, or when Martin Luther King, Jr. marched in the South, or when we landed on the moon. Awe, inspiration, a loss for words for a moment where you feel the gravitas but cannot yet process the significance. Until this moment, my lifetime has been filled with privilege and comfortable apathy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good cause and love to talk about politics, and have had many heated arguments with friends and strangers about various elections, issues, and thoughts over the years…but have I marched in protest? No. Have I allowed my grass roots to grow and flourish? Nope. I’ve kept them carefully mowed—neat, orderly, and yes, comfortably apathetic.
The closest I’ve come to activism is calling up a Senator or signing a petition. I contribute to Doctors without Borders, served in a soup kitchen and have adopted a child in the Philippines, but this has all been done in the comfort of my own home (or relatively close by my home). But now, now things are different. Not the sky is now green different, but there is definitely a shift, palpable and shimmering. I don’t think I quite understand it yet…how can I? I keep looking at the photo of President-Elect Obama and his family on the stage in Grant Park. I’m overwhelmed. This is an American family…an African-American family. A family that grew up like I did…not the idealistic nuclear family with two kids and a dog, but hardworking family that was messy and at times difficult, but turned out OK. This man is now the leader of the free world. This man–who understands what it is like to see the dream and go after it. To wake up and say “I am an American and I believe in this country. I will grow up and serve it. I want to be president…and one day I can. Not because of who my daddy is, but because this is America and I have a dream.”
What does this mean for me? Specifically, I don’t yet know. That of which I am sure is the hope, the renewal, the sense that true change is upon us. We are at a crossroads–this is quite possibly the most important moment in our lifetime, and the next steps forward are going to be difficult. But I feel for the first time that the realistic understanding of how impossible it is to move things in Washington is replaced with realistic optimism that this man, my President-Elect Obama, has the ability to rally the people of this country and truly change things.
My generation has never known true hardship. We’ve had our ups and downs, but for the most part, we’ve been privilege to a life of prosperity. Of course, this is generalized, but we could always find a job, buy food, obtain health care, get a student loan. It was never a question of “can I afford to go to college?” There was always a way, and the shelves were always stocked. The administration of the last eight years has threatened this security and stability; we are headed for the worst economic times that I have been alive to experience. My question is not can President-Elect Obama get us out of this mess, but can we as a country pull together, make sacrifices, and earn the spoils of being the best nation in the world? I am truly hopeful.
One of the biggest reasons that I am so inspired (aside from the obvious historical ones) is that people are rising up and participating. We had record numbers of voters in this election. We had kids, just old enough to vote, who were moved, inspired, and active about this election. In New York City, the sound of the streets exploding with excitement at 11PM when it was announced that Obama was predicted to win the election was something that I could only look upon with awe. It was amazing to look out my window and see that the roar was not from people flooding the streets in a parade-like (which is what it sounded like), but that it was everyone in their homes, collectively, rejoicing in a cacophony of historical significance that could be heard echoing off the buildings.
The original desire for me to write this was actually inspired by a few lurking conservatives in my extended circle who are preaching the “wait and see in four years-you’ll be sorry” mantra. For them, I am taking a personal snapshot of my life as it is now. I’d like to share it below, and then be able to pull it out in four years to see where things are:
I currently have steady job with a comfortable income, including health benefits, which I have held for the last seven years. I fall in the 25% tax bracket. My “comfortable” income means I’m able to afford my cost of living, and still have a modest savings and some spending money. I have a significant chunk of student loan debt on which I make monthly payments. I don’t have a portfolio or a 401K. I do not own property or a car, but I live in New York City where a car is not necessary and actually a hassle. I am not in a position where I could easily buy a home. Nor would I easily be able to support a child. I am able to contribute financially, although modestly, to a few charities.
I do feel that I am lucky to have my job at this point, whereas a few years ago, I felt that I could move on and find employment quickly. I do not have that confidence now due to the rising unemployment rates. I have the ability to support myself for a few months if for some reason I would lose my job or were unable to work. I am able to travel to see family and take a vacation if I desire.
I’m an opera singer that is able to find jobs that are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and there are still many job opportunities available on a local, regional, and national level. I have to ability to support my lessons and coachings on a fairly regular basis.
Although those were a few very boring paragraphs, I wanted to get them down so that in four years, I can take a comparative look to see where I am. I encourage you to do the same. I am hopeful that the picture in four years will look no worse, and hopefully look a little bit better. I am not expecting miracles, but I think it will be interesting to compare.
In closing, I would encourage everyone to open his or her eyes to the new world that is possible. To see beyond liberal and conservative, beyond color, beyond the past and focus on what the future could be. This is what it means to me to be an American. I was asleep, but I am awake with fervor and excitement. It’s time we all woke up and declared “Yes we can!” It is up to us to make the change we need. The momentum started last Tuesday night—let it not burn out but take it and drive it further. Yes, we can. Yes, we will.