As the sun rises on the first day of Barack Obama’s presidency, many are surely wondering what sweeping changes the future might bring. But on this historic day, we may stop and reflect on the effect Barack Obama has already had on our country, the change his two-year-long campaign has already brought.
For those whom the countless outrages of the Bush administration hurt most — the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the civilians who became collateral damage in the “War on Terror,” the people detained in violation of our law — the change they can believe in will only come when President Obama takes action to repair American government as he promised. But for a different group of us, our lives have already been greatly affected by his campaign and his victory.
When President Bush was inaugurated eight years ago, I was 11 years old, just about to finish sixth grade. I graduated high school in the shadow of a presidency entirely out of line with the values of my family and my friends. The only government I had known was a careless and incompetent one, and under those circumstances it was hard to believe it could be any other way.
The Obama campaign meant different things to those who worked on it, but to all it was fundamentally an opportunity. The campaign was an outlet for our frustration, our dissatisfaction, our need to act against the injustices we saw. To those who belittle the tireless work of campaign volunteers, I challenge them to find a goal toward which working yields as strong a feeling of empowerment.
The long hours spent walking the snow-covered streets of New Hampshire left us tired. We got lost and cold, and we were occasionally greeted by intolerance. But we were often greeted by warmth, by agreement and by those who from our dedication were inspired with hope. Those positive interactions in turn gave us the confidence that out there there was a not-so-silent majority waiting to be led to a better future.
More so than almost any other presidency, this one was truly created by and for the people. It isn’t just that volunteers gave Obama a boost in the polls. Without the enthusiasm and work of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who worked on his campaign, Obama would have bowed out in defeat early on. That knowledge kept us motivated through the seemingly endless campaign.
The cynical among us contend that Obama tricked the American people, that he’s an ephemeral creation of the media that will fade as it has been the case for many celebrities. But we know better.
We met the strangers who took two, three, four of us in when we were volunteering in a distant state. We saw the sweat, the tears and the yearning of those who devoted countless hours to doing what we saw as necessary to put our country on the right track again. And we forged friendships as we united around a common purpose.
We know the desire was real, the determination strong and the effort unrelenting. Talking heads and critics far from the campaign had their fun mocking the hopeful message of the campaign. But when I looked around at my friends’ faces as we watched our candidate inaugurated, the unadulterated hope I saw was unmistakable.
Obama liked to say that the campaign wasn’t about him, it was about us. But he’s too modest. It was about both of us. Just as he matured (and grayed) over the course of the campaign, so too did we learn about ourselves. America and the world saw that Americans care, Americans respond when called upon and, when they saw their future threatened, Americans demanded a leader who would steer their ship on the course they knew was right.
Yesterday, the result of those labors came to pass. It was all the more striking that, rather than being different, Obama’s inauguration was just like those of the past. For those of us who always wondered whether this was a dream, yesterday was very real. We were reminded that, though it seemed this day would never come, Barack Obama is now the president just as much as any man before him has ever been. From old institutions, our new president will draw the strength needed to achieve the mission he was elected to accomplish.
Andrew Feldman is a sophomore in Morse College. He is the secretary of the Yale College Democrats and a former member of Yale for Obama.