Saturday, November 08, 2008

Change I Can Believe In

I don't think I could overstate how elated and overjoyed I am that Barack Obama won this presidential election, and unlike the last couple of times, our new President-elect won it definitively and decisively. I am of course a proud American to know my country could overcome the racial hurdles of our past. But the most important thing is that we will have a new Democratic President of the United States who will reverse the policies of the Bush administration and chart a more progressive course for our nation and its people. There to help him will be robust Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.

It took one wild election to get here, but for me, this is a perfect cap on my own political awakening.

I have not always been as political as I am now. My father votes and likes to discuss politics with me, but it was never a family occasion as it is for some. I thought President Clinton did a good job and was treated shamefully by Republicans. I was disappointed when Al Gore "lost" in 2000. But politics wasn't a big part of my life.

Needless to say, it wasn't until I became disturbed by the actions of the Bush administration that changed. When I saw how they were using 9/11 to undermine the Constitution, ramrod conservative domestic legislation through Congress, and get Americans on board with an unwise war in Iraq, I started informing myself as much as I could. This was a terrible time though for political dissent. My then-minority views were quickly labeled "unpatriotic" or "naive" when anyone else spoke out, so it didn't exactly encourage me to become active. As this was around the time when the Internet became more and more useful for finding like-minded people, I (like Xanthippas and Nat-Wu) did find refuge with, DailyKos, etc. and eventually started writing my own blogs and newspaper articles.

But outside of bitching on forums, there wasn't much else for us to do. Except for Al Gore, most high-profile Democrats at the time were letting us down by capitulating to President Bush on things like the Patriot Act, and worst of all, the Iraq war.

Then came Howard Dean, a little known governor from Vermont who called out these Democrats for supporting the war, tax cuts for the rich, No Child Left Behind, etc. and still wanting our support. Most importantly, his campaign used the Internet as a new resource to build a grassroots effort. It allowed supporters like me to be connected and allowed him to break fundraising records. And it laid the groundwork for Barack Obama to come along later and completely annihilate the Republican advantage in fundraising and GOTV this year.

Of course, Dean was viciously attacked by the other candidates and the media. He lost Iowa and New Hampshire (and every other state except for Vermont after he got out!) and it became clear he'd lose the nomination to John Kerry. But Dean had brought me into the Democratic Party and wholeheartedly supported the ticket given the alternative of four more years of Bush.

That fall, I joined the College Democrats group at UNT to get more involved. Of course, Bush won reelection... but as depressed as were initially, we came to be more determined and I think Democrats/progressives across the nation felt the same way. Howard Dean was elected as the new chairman of the DNC, promising to implement a 50-state strategy to finally make Democrats competitive in every state and region. This plan, along with a collective call for getting their shit together, helped Democrats win a great victory just 2 years later and take back the Congress from Republicans.

Then, all eyes turned to the next presidential race.

Like most Americans, I had never heard of Barack Obama prior to his keynote address at the Democratic convention in 2004. But like many Americans, I had a feeling I was witnessing a future political leader's birth on the national scene. His speech encapsulated why Americans should vote for Democrats better than any other case made that year (especially any made by the Kerry/Edwards team). But more than that, it encapsulated the values that make Americans feel American. You know someone's got something special when you're a state senator and people are talking about you being president one day after just one speech.

Thankfully, it didn't turn out to be a fluke. Obama campaigned a great deal for Democratic candidates for the midterms, bringing out the largest crowds and subsequently, bringing the house down (prior this year, I had the fortunate pleasure of hearing both him and Joe Biden speak at a rally in Dallas in 2005). He shocked and excited the political world when he announced his candidacy for president after Democrats took control of Congress. Most people had assumed he should wait until he had more experience, but he obviously sensed now was his time. He would have no greater window to offer up the unique opportunity his candidacy could bring.

I hesitated little in backing Obama during the presidential race. He was a charismatic politician who could bring independents and new voters into the party, he had forcefully and intelligently opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and showed similar judgment on other issues, and most importantly, after 8 years of one of the most divisive presidents in history, we didn't just need a Democrat - we needed someone who could truly play the role of a uniter.

Over the course of the primary season, he expanded on the Dean model and built up a strong organization that triumphed over his Democratic rivals. I never worked harder than when I was a precinct captain for his effort during the Texas primary/caucus. And I've never given more money than I did during both the primary and general election campaigns! But it was all worth it to be a part of this movement.

As we saw just this past Tuesday, Barack Obama ran one of the greatest and most disciplined campaigns in history and it carried him to great victory. His election reaffirmed to many in this country and around the world of what America and Americans can aspire to. It has reaffirmed my faith in the political process and that I have not chosen a frivolous path for myself these last few years. If anything, it has made me more excited about the possibilities of the future.

I can't wait to see what happens next.

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