History is (still) counting on us a letter to friends

On Nov. 3, 2004 – the day following George W. Bush’s re-election as president – I wrote a letter to some of my closest friends and comrades. The tone of that letter was quite somber, reflecting the great sadness that we all felt that our months of campaign efforts and years of struggle against the destructive policies of the Bush administration had not resulted in reversing the terrible course our nation was on. In that time of depressed spirits and dashed hopes, I expressed the disbelief we were all left with as we pondered how the forces of ignorance and fear had once again succeeded in extinguishing truth and deceiving millions of people into voting against their own interests.

For all the honest and sincere efforts of John Kerry and John Edwards in that campaign, I think we all knew that the primary thing motivating us to continue knocking on doors, registering voters, and making phone calls day after day was not a dedication to a necessarily inspiring vision of the future or bold leadership. Ours was a negative motivation. We were engaged in a fight to stop policies of war abroad and destruction of all the past social achievements at home. The clearest expression of this was the popular “Anybody But Bush” slogan. We all knew what were AGAINST.

In 2008, we had something to be FOR. Tomorrow, Jan. 20, Barack Obama will take the oath of office to become President of the United States of America. All of us have seen the news coverage for months now and we know the historic significance of his victory: the first African American president, the first Democrat with control of both houses of Congress since the early 1990s, the son of an immigrant from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, an inspiration that is prompting a new generation of youth to service and political awareness, and so many more things. While expectations of what Obama will accomplish are soaring to the heavens, I think we can be confident that the combination of his leadership and the struggles that all of us participate in on the ground will bring massive change to our political and social landscape. The first tasks for the new president will of course be consumed with reversing the destruction of the past eight (or perhaps thirty) years of ultra-right domination, from Guantanamo and the war in Iraq to the immediate economic crisis. But in the years ahead, I am hopeful that great social and economic reforms are on the way which will fundamentally transform the lives of the people of our nation.

Though many make the comparison, the situation today is not exactly like 1932 when the greatest American president (in my opinion), Franklin D. Roosevelt, came into office. But like the United States did at that time, we too find ourselves in a dark period of economic uncertainty and we face great challenges ahead. Now, just as then, we have a leader and a movement that has grown from among the people which together can begin making those first steps toward that better America we all believe is not only possible, but necessary.

But beyond the historic significance of tomorrow’s inauguration, I’m certain that for many of us, the victory of 2008 was also a personal vindication. It was the confirmation that all our efforts to change the country we love were not in vain. It justified the countless marches and rallies we attended, the articles and letters to the editor we wrote, the pamphlets we handed out. It showed the power of political commitment and conscientious struggle. Within the space of barely five years, we went from being the tiny minority who faced scorn in the streets for opposing Bush’s war plans or his attacks on social security, to being part of a truly mass movement that has altered the direction of this country forever. This victory has given me a renewed confidence in the possibility of progress in the United States. Who would have thought the situation would change so drastically in such a short time? Can any of us doubt ourselves or ever ask again whether the work we do is worth it? I don’t think we can. We have seen what millions of people can accomplish when they are united behind a vision of a better world. This is exactly the kind of thing we have spent years hoping for. Now we have to seize the opportunity.

The end of the Bush Era represents the conclusion of not only a failed presidency, but also the failed dual ideologies of neoconservatism and neoliberalism. We stand on the eve of a presidency that holds more promise than perhaps any before it. But it will fall to all of us, those who count ourselves among the ranks of the politically active to devote our abilities and efforts to organizing the forces that will make it possible to fulfill that promise. Just as I said in 2004 that our efforts were not really about John Kerry or George Bush, that remains true today. Obama is a truly inspiring political figure, but it is the vision of a better future that must continue to drive us. We must continue to be motivated by the certainty that acting together we can create a world that is more just, more humane, more equitable, and more cooperative. A world where education, jobs, and healthcare are rights, not privileges. A world where people come before profits and where negotiation is valued over the use of force.

Tonight, I can truly say that I am proud to be an American again. I hope all of you can say the same. Just as there was four years ago, there is great work ahead of us, but the nature of the struggle has qualitatively changed. We no longer have to be solely on the defensive. Now, we have to make our dreams become a reality. We have a world to win.

The future begins today.

C.J. Atkins is a graduate school student in economics.