On Choosing Hope

and

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our
kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American
dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we
breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us
that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes, we can.

Barack Obama, November 4, 2008

 

I was afraid to write this piece. To be sure, I was not afraid to be associated with
Obama or his campaign. I have been a supporter since his Illinois senate race, and anyone
who knew me during the election will attest that I rarely stopped talking about the
promise of an Obama presidency.

And, I was not afraid to put my political commitments into action. I made phone
calls to and canvassed in some of the roughest streets of Ohio. And I knew stories of
others who gave their time, money, energy, work, and hope for days on end. Doing that
good work, I got to see others overcome their fears, as well. I still marvel at the mother
I met as I got-out-the-vote at 6:30 pm in Toledo, Ohio on election night. In a nightgown,
surrounded by three children, this single-mother stood at her door and told me she
hadn’t voted because she could not leave her kids alone. My friends and I found a neighbor
whom she trusted enough to watch her kids, and twenty minutes before the polls
closed she walked down her street to vote. For generations to come, where we were, what
we did and said, and what we witnessed during the 2008 election will permeate our
cultural memory.

So, no, I did not hesitate to write this piece out of fear that I had nothing to write
about.

My hesitation came from writing anything at all. This might seem strange coming
from a woman who teaches writing for a living, but I was afraid that I would be unable
to write a piece worthy of this election–this moment in civil society. The task seemed
too big. My voice seemed too small. Even still, buoyed by hope for the future, I committed
to write. And–with that choice–the words came.

I find a powerful parallel between my writing paralysis and the seeming political inertia
that has enveloped our country. We have become fearful. Nervous. Immobilized.
By the time of the election, we had seen our country’s greatest gifts used for inexplicable
harm. Those things we loved–the United States’ power to protect the weak and fight for
peace–we had seen used for oppression. Those things we trusted–our medical systems,
social security, pensions, and privilege to own homes–we had seen squandered
by avarice. In short, our country’s cherished ideals had become their antitheses.

Yet despite this history–at a moment when we were losing our ability to envision
alternatives–we found a collective voice and used it in the hope that we could restore
lost values, reclaim our nation’s founding principles, and reaffirm the pursuit of “beloved
community”. In our country, we saw state-wide changes in attitude and voting practices.
On a dilapidated street in Toledo, Ohio we saw a 90 year-old white woman hand
her mail-in ballot to the mailman and say quietly, “I grew up with prejudice. This vote
is important to me.” She. . . we. . . found hope in overcoming fear.

I believe that our recent past has given us a glimpse of the human condition–something
good became corrupted. Of course, this is not a new show. Throughout history,
good works have been trampled by empire; voices have been silenced by fear; grassroots
movements have been incinerated by greed; and compassion has been squelched by
power. Yet time and again, hope has fueled change. Revolutions have occurred. Rights
have been restored. Justice has been done. And the collective yearning for a better way
wins the day.

The inauguration of our 44th president offers us such a moment. It offers the chance
for transformation–for the birth of a new nation. On November 4, 2008, our country
chose improbability. Not stasis, but possibility. Not fear, but hope. Not being, but becoming.
May God bless our choice, our voices, and our renewal.

Megan Marie teaches English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.