Prime Optimism

There's a beautiful, delicate irony about the desolate situation our culture finds itself in at the moment. A year and a month ago, we performed our national duty and voted in a president who stood for "change we can believe in." He was so different, in the way he spoke, the words he had to say, and the hope he instilled in us. No longer would we sit idly by while our lives were dictated to us by politicians! We were getting back our freedom, our civil liberties, and we resolved never to allow ourselves to be disenfranchised again.

I stand at a very unique distance from these events, being young, just out of college, and having grown up knowing only the failed policies of George W. Bush. In fact, my political awakening didn't occur until after 9/11, at which point I was a freshman in high school. This put a lot of pressure on this past election to bring about the first real change anyone in my generation could be a part of directly. And boy, did we take advantage of the opportunity! We went to the polls in record numbers, raised record funds, worked record hours, and drank record amounts when the results came in. We felt a sense of relief, like we could rest easy knowing our patriarchal leader and his matriarchal spouse were watching over us at all times.

And I think for many of us, that sense of safety and comfort has not worn off yet. Here we are, a year later, and none of the big promises Obama made have been kept. We've been thrown into a recession forcefully and without choice by behemoths of business so poorly understood that the measures implemented to save the economy did little more than funnel money back into their hands. We're a part of two wars we were promised would end, and the war in Afghanistan is poised to grow in scale, not shrink. Jobs don't exist, but the stock market continues to go up. Education budgets are slashed and public welfare services are cut, but the richest 1% continue to gain wealth. The environment has been told that we are very sorry but we have more pressing matters at hand right now. And most importantly, we have been told that our health is negotiable and subject to a bottom-line.

How is it that "change we can believe in" seems so much like the status quo? I think a lot of people would make an appeal to governmental accountability at this point, declaring with fire and brimstone that politicians will descend to the deepest depths of societal hell if they don't change their ways. Others will point to apathy and the consumerist in us all that whispers in our ear, saying "it'll be OK, go indulge yourself and the stress will go away." But neither of these explains why a year ago we were so gung-ho regarding shaping and electing "our" candidate, and why now we seem so complacent and willing to let the new administration get away with so much. We didn't become zombie slaves over the course of a single year, and most of us still have the same ethical standards. So what is it that has frozen us in our tracks?

The answer isn't pretty. It isn't hopeful, and it isn't fun. But it is something we can rally around, and we can use it as a wake-up call to spur the growth of effective interest in REAL change. The answer is: reality. Hope and change are words, feelings, and descriptions that are used to show the way in which an event occurred AFTER the fact. They can motivate, inspire, and cure the wounds of apathy and disillusionment. But they can't write policy, and they don't understand the nuances of working within a system. It's time to actually get to work; we can have a real, tangible influence on the way the rest of Obama's term plays out, but we cannot take any more time to rest on our laurels.

It's time to get up, unwrap ourselves from within the "United for Change" posters we still sleep with at night, and implement the change we want to see in the world. You're just one person, true, but look at what we did last November. We can do that again, easily, in an instant. We have the internet, limitless ideas, and hearts full of love. We have an understanding of the world that no one else can lay claim to, and it sees us all better off as equals instead of subject to arbitrary hierarchies. So get out there, let out your battle cry, and do the work! Fight for change, sweat for it, spread your hope and spread your love and show the world that last November wasn't a blip of progressive thought--it was the beginning of a new tomorrow.


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A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.