Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mr. President, I Was Listening

PHOTO: USA Today
I listened to President Obama carefully last Thursday but it wasn’t until the end of his acceptance speech that I was moved the way I was moved four years ago.

I went back to the transcript to find what resonated so strongly:


We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

“As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.

“So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens- you were the chang
e.”

I’ve always believed that it is ‘we’ and not ‘me’ that forms the fabric of our lives, and four years ago I heard it clearly articulated as the vision of change. The conflicting visions of ‘we’ versus ‘me’ are what is at odds today, inflamed by political firebombing.

Mere rhetorical flourish? I think not. “When the people lead, leaders will follow,” Gandhi is quoted as saying.

So often, it turns out, the real victory in local conflicts come with winning hearts and minds, not territory.

How often has a cause or an idea, championed by a charismatic leader, fizzles away when the leader passes or the charisma fades? How often does a cause or an idea take on a life of its own and is then described as an idea, a cause ‘whose time has come’?

As an organizer, an activist and a communicator, I’ve spent most of my entire adult life working towards building constituencies around causes and ideas, to nurture and shepherd a culture of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘me.’

Folks who voted for the president four years ago and thought he’d take care of everything so they could go back to their lives are naturally disappointed. He never said he would or could.

Last Thursday, he threw us back upon ourselves: “So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens- you were the change.”

And the change was that ‘we’ are the vision that will guided our way forward. That’s what resonated with me four years ago and last Thursday resonated with me again.

To work to move forward with inclusiveness as a guiding principle is such a daunting task, so much harder a challenge than pitting me against you, us against them. But unless we figure out how to do it as ‘we,’ there will be no real change.

Thank you, Mr. President.

--Mike Sato

2 comments:

  1. Very well said, Mike, and I couldn't agree more. I, too, was moved by his speech last week. I hope enough US citizens were listenining, and equally moved, to re-elect him. Here in Canada, we are seeing a relentless dismantling of our democracy and social fabric as the Harper Conservatives shamelessly push a "me" rather than "we" agenda. Whatever shortcomings we on the left might see in current US government policies, it's way, way better than the alternative would be. It would be truly awful - for US citizens AND for the world - to see a Harperesque government installed on your side of the border, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed as your election date approaches.

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  2. I picked up on the same thing. A president can only do so much and this president has been hampered by those that fear change or those that do not want to move forward together.

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