I am 45 years old.
I was born 5 weeks after MLKs famous “I Havea Dream” speech on the mall in Washington.Although it predates my birth, that speech is one of my totems – my touchstones- that inspired me and given me comfort throughout my life.
5 weeks before my 45th birthdayI sat on my couch with my daughter Asha on my lap and listened to Barak Obama acceptingthe Democratic nomination for President of the United States. I cried.
As an ex-pat, political junky I generallywatch US politics with cynicism, a sense of detachment and moral superiority. US politicsalways seems to me like a John Stewart skit on the Daily Show but without thehumour. But not that August night; I was genuinely moved and envious.
It wasn’t Obama’s policy prescriptions -which are mainstream Democrat – it was the fact that a potential leader of myformer nation had the courage (and the skill) to articulate a different visionfor his country, and for the world. A different vision for how people – evenpeople we disagree with – can relate to one another in a respectful, productiveway. Obama challenged Americans to make the US a better country than it hasbeen. He dared everyone to reach for a dream. He reminded us of the promise weimagine – we yearn for – in our leadership and our country. He resurrected thepossibility that our children can inherit a world grounded in fairness, equityand a shared sense of their future.
Most importantly he articulated that thepath towards this change was not built solely on a new leader, or better policies,but on people re-engaging in the democratic process as a whole.
Obama’s specific policies sometimes disappointedme, particularly on energy. I do not believe solutions lie in so-called clean coal and expandednuclear. But somehow that didn’t matter.
Both Martin Luther King and Obama havethe unique ability to help re-connect people to the best of themselves. To helppeople step away from their fear, their bitterness and their partisanship, instead tobelieve in – and hopefully act – on their collective hope.
My birthday has come and gone and we have visited the polling booths on both sides of the border and while business-as-usual reigns supreme in the great white north, inthe U.S. it seems like the beginning of one of those rare, ephemeral moments inhistory where people come together to do something great, something beyondtheir self-interest.
It’s not about us versus them, it’s aboutwe.
As a political activist and new dad Icouldn’t contain my tears as Obama spoke after his momentous victory onNovember 2. Like many others I felt for the first time in my lifetime a nationalpolitical candidate was talking for me, articulating my vision for thefuture and the path to get us there.
But while my heart soared, I couldn’t helpbut be envious. Juxtapose Obama’s portrait of a better world with thepolitical discourse here in Canadabefore and after the recent federal election. In Canada we are stuck in a partisanfeud where the 15 second sound bites pass for statesmanship. Personal attacksoverwhelm substantive discussions and bean counters drive policy. It’sdepressing.
While Obama pulled no punches, he wasn’t consumedby finger pointing. The same can’t be said about Harper. .
I know there are those who dismiss the focus on”hope” as happy talk. They claim that those who yearn for something grander,something more tangible and more honest in our public life is just a TrojanHorse for tax and spend, anarchy and the abandonment of traditional values. Andthat’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you usestale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record of accomplishmentto highlight, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.
And unfortunately it worked for Harper.Stephane Dion ran a terrible campaign, but Harper’s need for control,his refusal to let Conservative candidates show up at all candidates meetings, or answer unscripted questions, drove political discourse in Canada to a new all-time low.
Obama pointed out thathis opponents tried to “make a big election about small things.” Well that is exactly what hashappened in Canada. Doe anyone really believe that Harper didn’tsee the recession coming when he hurriedly called the election.
Harper’s autocratic spin control approach toleadership feeds into the scorn we all have about government. Despite thegrowing scorn for politics and government, Obama’s grassroots, people-drivencampaign victory shows us that our hopes don’t have to be dashed again andagain. He has showed us we don’t have to stop hoping; that we don’t have tosettle for the status quo, for cynicism …for what you already know.
Obama’s victory shows us all that a betterworld is possible and that the path forward isn’t defined by one man, but bythe belief that collectively we can succeed. Now it’sup to us to import this sentiment to Canadian politics.