Building Bridges: Hope is Renewable

Like many of my fellow citizens, one of my first thoughts after hearing Sen. Barack Obama declared the winner of Tuesday’s election was “I am so proud to be an American.”

Yes, my guy won. Yes, the United States elected it’s first African-American president (and that’s an incredible step forward). Yes, the issues that matter to me (and likely to you) will receive much more attention than they have over the past eight years. All of these are reasons to celebrate.

But, even more important, and more critical to our near- and long-term future: hope won.

While that sounds like a nice, abstract, feel-good statement, I don’t think we can underestimate the notion that Tuesday’s election came down to a choice between hope and fear. Let’s face it: the choice of Obama to lead the country for the next four years was risky. He proved his intelligence, eloquence and resolve during the campaign, but he’s still a relative newcomer to the national stage. He faces Herculean challenges upon entering office: a financial and economic mess, two wars, and, yes, monumental environmental threats… to name a few of the most pressing issues. And, of course, he has critics ready to pounce hard on the slightest perceived misstep.

Americans knew these things as they entered the voting booths on Tuesday… and yet the majority still chose Senator Obama over the much better-known Senator McCain. And while we can parse decisions and actions made by each candidate and his representatives, I really want to believe that what Americans voted for wasn’t simply a man, a party, or a governing ideology, but rather the spirit embodied in the exclamation “Yes we can.”

That spirit, I believe, is where the potential for bridge-building comes in. The Obama campaign tapped into a fundamental American belief: we, as a nation, as a community, as a diverse group of fellow citizens, can overcome the challenges that face us. It’s the same spirit that President Kennedy leveraged when he challenged the country to put a man on the moon within a decade, and when he instructed Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” And, yes, it’s the same spirit that Ronald Reagan tapped with the “morning in America” theme of his first campaign. Despite some ugly periods in our history born largely out of fear, we tend to return to hope and optimism, and even act accordingly.

As the initial joy of Obama’s election gives way to recognition of the hard challenges we face, I think it’s so important to remember that this spirit of “Yes we can” won this election. As environmentalists pushing for action on climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, and pollution,  we have a lesson to (re)learn here: hope inspires while fear paralyzes. While we can never forget the potentially cataclysmic consequences that could result from failing to address environmental challenges, we’ll make more progress by appealing to hope, possibility, and shared service rather than fear.

As we work to build those bridges to individuals and groups that distrust us, we should remember that people want to feel empowered… regardless of their party affiliation. As we reach out, let’s focus on empowering our fellow citizens. Let’s show them the potential for abundance that comes with shifting our country, and our communities, in more sustainable directions… and doesn’t have to mean abandoning their core values.  Let’s push for action from our new President, and our national, state and local governments, but always remember that individuals can also make big differences as entrepreneurs, community activists, volunteers… Let’s listen to what motivates people different from ourselves, and engage our creativity to find ways to harness those motivations. And let’s not forget that over 60% of our fellow citizens cast their votes based on economic concerns, and have faith in the idea that we can meaningfully address environmental challenges in ways that create prosperity and opportunity.

Yes we can. The Obama campaign narrative set a high bar for us… but we’re up to it. We’ve proven, once again, that we’ll choose hope over fear… now, let’s follow that choice up with meaningful, thoughtful and cooperative action. Hope is renewable… our challenge, our responsibility, is to insure that hope is sustained.

And… if you didn’t see President-elect Obama’s speech on Tuesday, the entire text is up over at The Inspired Economist.

Image source: jetheriot at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Bobby B.

    Well said, Jeff. Although your guy won and my guy lost way back in the Republican primaries, I do wish the President Elect a safe and successful term of office. I tried to write some comments about my confusion regarding the historical significance of the election as it pertains to the media’s fascination with race. When I re-read them everything kept rhyming, so I made a feeble, left-brain attempt at poetry. I know it probably stinks, but what the heck, you can have a laugh on me.

    I, sadly, must be unable to see
    The weight of history that’s been set before me.
    The rhetoric of race and the election won
    Have left me confounded about the man they call, The One.
    His beliefs remain guarded and the man a mystery.
    What exactly are his plans for you and for me?

    His being African-American is truly apparent.
    Born to a Kenyan father and an American upstart,
    He was raised to play his part
    By two loving, Caucasian grandparents.
    To claim him the son of slavery
    Does require a bit of blasphemy.
    Whoopi and Oprah may smile with pride
    And the Reverend Jackson has tears in both eyes,
    But be it improper to ask from whence such emotions creep,
    Or if their connection is more than skin deep?

    Should I have rejoiced like some repentant beggar
    When Californians elected Governor Schwarzenegger?
    His parents too were from a foreign land.
    If I remember correctly, he was born Austrian.
    His skin much like mine but his accent like no other,
    Have I any right to call Arnold my brother?

    Had the anointed one’s views aligned with my ideology
    I could have easily pulled the lever that won him the presidency.
    But if am to cross that purported racial divide,
    I’d prefer that the message heard far and wide
    Echo the sentiments of Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams, and Justice Clarence Thomas.
    For these men hold dear freedom’s original promise,
    Breathed through the Founder’s following a bloody revolution
    Onto a slip of paper that is The United States Constitution.


  2. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Wow, Bobby… had no idea you had poetry in you… I learn something every day.

    I’m having trouble responding to some of the ideas you present, simply because I feel inadequate to deal with them in any kind of authoritative manner. The issue of race in this election was incredibly complex. I do think African-Americans have a reason to be proud, even if Obama’s background, and his political leanings, are different from many of their own (consider Condeleeza Rice’s response) — and I don’t think anyone from a different race should feel like a bigot for voting for another candidate… unless, of course, they did it primarily based on bigotry (and none of us can know that unless those people state that outright). But, beyond that, I just can’t say much… it’s a very complicated issue.

  3. Bobby B.

    If the poetry was any good (which I doubt it was), it probably stems from the complexity of the race issue on which I also cannot comment with any authority or certainty. Plus, I took some mind altering sinus medicine this morning. No, not really, but the conservative bylaws require us to provide some sort of lame explanation whenever we venture near the realm of the “artsy”. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue in the wake of a conservative literary/artistic uprising? What would the world become if a bunch of us started frequenting the coffee shops to sip cappuccino and jockey for that free Wi-Fi bandwidth which you liberals so enjoy? 😉

    But getting back to race, none of us can undo the past. I think that the United States is unique in that it has the distinction of having only enslaved one race; not counting those who migrated via indentured servitude. At one time or another, every race has been enslaved by another or by its own. However, thanks to the passage of time, many of those wounds have healed and we have forgotten whatever may have been the first step in those healing processes. Maybe Mr. Obama’s election will be a giant step forward in race relations, and a step worth remembering. It would be nice to see the terms “bigot” and “racist” removed from the discussion anytime someone criticizes the political beliefs of a person of color. It would also be an improvement to see black conservatives “come out of the closet” without being demonized as Uncle Tom’s. Of course, since there are so many people and organizations that rely on the issue of race to further agendas and keep the cash flowing, hoping for that kind of change could just be a dream.

    You said in your comments, “I don’t think anyone from a different race should feel like a bigot for voting for another candidate… unless, of course, they did it primarily based on bigotry.” Would you consider it bigoted if race was the only reason that someone voted for your candidate?

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