Quenching the Thirst for a Better America

AKRON, Ohio - It is a ground swell to be sure. I hear and see a thirst for real hope in America and for the kind of freedom many of us have not had for many years. I have been traveling the country for the past 15 months talking about healthcare reform, but the change I am seeing in my fellow citizens over these many months has more to do with how we look at one another than how we decide any one issue.

Today in Akron, Ohio, citizens jammed into a high school gymnasium to hear Michelle Obama speak. She was here in Ohio because her husband is now in Hawaii with his ailing grandmother. But this crowd was just as happy to have this terrific American woman and the most likely - at this juncture - next First Lady of the United States standing and delivering the message of inclusion and of American inspiration that has been so very absent from the past several years.

It has been such a long, dry spell for so many people in this nation. Many of us had nearly lost hope in the ability of our government to hear our concerns or address issues critical to our common good - as the Constitution suggests is our reason for existing as these United States.

The energy to organize that the Obama campaign has infused in the nation has created a growing energy and a soaring expectation that in spite of the policy cruelty and blind allegiance to corporate interests that have marked the past 28 years, we still do give a damn about those basic rights of all human beings and about the freedom to dream and achieve.

Now, this is not to say at all that Barack Obama - when elected - can immediately address all the problems and serious issues facing this nation. Nor am I saying I agree with every policy suggestion he is offering - as an example, while his healthcare stand is certainly not where I'd like to see it, I believe that under an Obama presidency there is at least a fighting chance of mobilizing citizens in favor of healthcare reform that ends the chokehold - figuratively and literally - that for-profit health insurance companies and Big Pharma have on healthcare in this nation.

The power the Obama camp has handed back to the citizens of the nation is palpable. I've seen the energy shift in dramatic fashion from New York to Nevada and from North Carolina to Washington State. I've now been in 35 states and the District of Columbia in recent months, and Americans are already standing a little taller and shaking off the mantle of hateful and judgmental power-mongering that has made so many good people feel so very down-trodden.

There is real anger about the mess in the financial sector. But most of the Americans speak to put the blame right where it belongs - on greedy corporate interests, leaders unwilling or unable to confront those greedy corporate interests and on a society drunk on things valued over human beings - lives centered on stuff rather than substance.

Electing Obama will not quickly solve our problems. Global warming, war and financial instability, healthcare crisis and damaged international relationships, crumbling infrastructure and educational insufficiency - none of these issues will be easy to fix.

But the amazing gift already delivered is exactly as Obama initially put forth. It is giving us all back the "audacity of hope" in our lives. I have never seen so many diverse Americans gathered together in gyms and in parks and in other public venues to be a part of such a massive societal shift - it is the most exciting human transformation I have ever seen.

The problems we face are daunting - pre and post election. And Obama will have so very much to do. But we will have begun that long national healing process we have needed ever since the "trickle down" of the Eighties announced to the world and to each of us in America that some people will have power over others and are intrinsically better while the weak will have to wait until the trickling class trickles.

It's finally over. The darkness and the sadness can now lift. No more years given up to beating up on those deemed less worthy - it's time for reaching forward into our shared and challenging and terrifying and potentially incredible future as Americans. The walls are falling and the light is beginning to shine on all those darks places we have known were out there. And if Obama is elected on November 4th, we can lift him too as we dare to care enough to change the things that must be changed even if the path is difficult.

I am astounded by the shift I see throughout the country. What a magnificent gift we can give one another if we will but recognize our own parts in settling for less and now refuse to ever again participate in the swindle. It's going to be tough, but with our fighting spirits being restored and rising, we can continue uplifting each other. The election cycle - thanks to the Obama organizing effort - has begun to change the nation already. Bravo, fellow Americans, bravo.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses
Association and National Co-Chair, Progressive Democrats of America
Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

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