With Barack Obama’s approval rating at 73%, and a public confident that he’ll deliver all the change we need, I can’t help but be reminded of another time progressives were so hopeful — or so shockingly disappointed: a little more than eight years ago, on the eve of the 2000 election.
The race was close. Much closer than it was this time. And while things were far from perfect, life was good: a budget surplus, no war, no Katrina barreling down. When I heard the exit-poll results put my state (Florida) in the blue, I was sure that everything would stay just fine.
But what did I know? I was 19, collecting bars of Nader’s corporate soap, only half-heartedly supporting Gore instead. When the supreme court called the 2000 election for Bush, I was horrified. And then I did what a lot of young and noncommittally idealistic kids like me tend to do: I quit paying attention. Screw it. I shut the TV off and didn’t read the news. I dropped history as a major, stopped thinking about politics, and, like your average self-centered undergrad, completely disengaged.
Would you blame me, living in a state where people like Katherine Harris make decisions?
Being a cynic steels you against inevitable bad news. But pretending not to care about what happens is inherently childish: “I didn’t get what I wanted, so I stopped listening.” Bush’s first inauguration? I didn’t watch. When the war started, when the secret prisons and wire-taps and torture began, I got upset, forwarded a few anti-Bush e-mails to my friends, but I didn’t get any more involved than that. Why bother? Demonstrate and hold marches all you want, but it ain’t going to change a thing. Well, that’s what I thought, anyway.
A ton of people, of course, weren’t nearly as lazy as I was, and never stopped trying to fight for change. Even when change wasn’t anywhere in sight, they kept protesting. With a sense of humor, even.
This time, as a Buddhist practitioner, committed to helping all beings, somehow, be happy, I’m not going to be so lazy. When Obama’s honeymoon ends — when something inevitably goes wrong, when he isn’t liberal enough for every Green Party voter, or not progressive enough on marriage rights, or when another war breaks out, I hope the people who supported him don’t withdraw in disgust.
So, for 2009, I’m making a promise not to get so disenchanted this time around, and I hope the rest of my generation will, too. If something changed last election year, it’s this: grass roots activists have seen that their work can pay off. Another world is possible. It may not have arrived on January 20th, but it’s still on its way.