It's Up to Us
Before long the harsh realities of America's situation will challenge the exuberant hopefulness that has buoyed our spirits since election night. The President of the United States is the most powerful official in the US and the world. But he is not capable of solving all our troubles with a barrage of executive orders and legislative imperitives.
The news this week is a torrent of calls for Obama to respond promptly to dozens of urgent matters. Writers and editors and media personalities are all passionately arguing for what they perceive the priority should be, as if Obama were already in office.
To his great credit, Obama has wasted no time in organizing his attack on the problems that face the nation. We see announcements and rumors almost hourly of the people he is calling to serve in his administration and what these selections portend.
It would be so easy to breathe a sigh of relief and leave matters in Obama's hands, turning our attention back to the more mundane issues of daily life. At home we have our family's priorities--the business of everyday work and play. But we can't afford to disengage from the problems that face America. Our rescue is largely in our hands as citizens. And our grandchildren will pay the bills we are running up. It's up to us.
Obama will need active support from the grass roots to ensure that critical actions are not deadlocked in partisan congressional battles. We the people need to stay on top of the issues and demand that our Senators and Congressmen support the Obama administration's initiatives. We need to counterbalance the influence of lobbyists who will try to shape legislation to favor their clients, and to the detriment of the rest of us.
Obama's use of the Web allowed thousands of us to self-organize in support of his election. He will almost certainly morph these web tools into a network to support his agenda. This has the potential to add a completely new power base to our democratic process--the internet social network. I won't belabor this idea, but I recommend you read Farhad Manjoo's article in Slate to get the full picture.
We are entering a new era of politics, one in which everyone can play a role. We won't have to wait for an election to force our representatives to listen. We won't be limited to a petition, or picketing, or write-in campaigns, or telephone calls to staffers who make tally marks pro or con. Our representatives won't get away with non-committal letters that thank us for our input while dismissing it. Political social networks can have influence far beyond the traditional ways of communicating, and Obama has already demonstrated how it might work in his campaign. Here is an example quoted from Manjoo's article:
"During the campaign, we saw one vivid example of how Obama might handle online protests of his policies--he'll let them go on. In June, the Senator announced that he had switched positions on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He decided to vote for an updated version of the bill even though it offered immunity to telecom companies that had worked with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, a measure that many of his supporters vehemently opposed."
"Protestors immediately took to the campaign's site; a group urging Obama to reject the bill swelled to more than 20,000 members, making it by far the site's largest. Obama didn't change his mind on the eavesdropping bill. But neither did the campaign take any steps to shut down the anti-FISA group, and shortly before voting for the bill, Obama posted a lengthy note to the group explaining why he'd voted for the bill, and his policy staff answered hundreds of comments from the group explaining the nuances of the senator's position."
This powerful new communications tool will have no influence if we don't stay engaged and motivated.
There is much at stake. The agenda seems impossible, but we need to Go for It, as the editors of New Republic suggest. Someone produced a spoof copy of the New York Times dated ahead to July 2009. In it the articles depict a changed world, one that seems impossible, in which all of the goals of the Obama agenda have been achieved. The audacity of hope indeed.
Obama has repeatedly said he needs our help. The central theme of his campaign was "Yes we can."- He was not simply referring to the election. He will need us to be fired up and ready to go for the next four, or more probably eight years. What is possible is a new definition of democracy where "by the people"- becomes the operative concept. It's high time. (Read Obama and the dawn of thFourth Republic.)
If Americans can stay engaged with the process, none of the daunting problems ahead can defeat us. The change we can believe in, the change we need, lies in us, not in Washington. It's truly up to us.
November 12, 2008
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