The results of Barack Obama’s impressive standing in last week’s first quarter fundraising report made one thing clear: when it comes to Obama, there is a unique symbiosis between the candidate and his supporters.
At the outset of his presidential bid, Obama designated his campaign as ‘the vehicle’ for the nation’s hopes and dreams, and people have responded by getting on board in record numbers. What has developed – and is developing still – is a campaign unlike any other in the history of American politics, wherein a widespread number of disparate individuals are actively building a campaign from the bottom-up by donating and organizing themselves first. The result is a campaign characterized by its leader as much as its supporters; the two are in fact reflective of each other. Perhaps, at a very basic level, it can be said that the candidate and his supporters are united in a shared vision of the campaign: as an opportunity to align the scope of everyday life with the responsibilities of civic duty.
We who support Obama now unquestionably share a great responsibility in moving this campaign forward. In a sense, it is up to us. We have become synonymous with what Obama’s candidacy represents and people will be –and already are – looking to Obama’s supporters in evaluation of him. We are, in other words, the ambassadors of Obama’s campaign. Therefore, we are called to fully ground ourselves in Obama’s message and then come to an actionable understanding of what that message means in our own lives.
That message might best be understood as two things: first, a restoration of citizenship, and second, a project of national renewal.
On the first of these, Obama says, “This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.” On the second of these, Obama says, “What’s needed is a broad majority of Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and independents of goodwill – who are re-engaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others.”
Citizenship and national renewal. That is what this is all about.
I am especially compelled by Obama’s use of the word ‘project.’ Obama’s vision is comprehensive and multifaceted, and so it is accurate to understand his vision as a project – something ongoing and regulated by a specific plan. Obama’s campaign has already inspired us to personalize his message; now we must personalize his project. Or to put it another way, we must each design a personal plan for how we will best contribute to that project within the context of our own, individual lives – at work, at school, in our daily commutes, waiting in line at the grocery store, and talking with our friends.
In order to grow into that healthy, vibrant garden of Obama supporters we all yearn to become, we need to first take root in common soil. That is essential. I believe our common soil is simply that we each decide to make a commitment to do the following in our own lives:
1. Own our individual civic duty
2. Become informed
3. Attract opposition
4. Measure success, maximize disappointments
5. Answer cynicism
What do these mean? Well, here are my thoughts on where we might all find some common ground. I’ll just add that while I speak in terms of ‘we’, this is simply what my personal foundation in this campaign is. I invite yours as well! Please share your thoughts.
Own our individual civic duty
We each acknowledge that we are members of society, and we accept the obligations of living in a community. We remember that we are accountable to our neighbors – the ones we agree with and the ones we do not. We assess how our actions will affect others, both positively and negatively. We register. We vote.
We seek out information about the current events of our local communities, our states, our nation, and of global affairs. We examine our history as a nation, both domestically and internationally. We challenge our own personal positions and philosophies by testing them against others. We remain open to being disproven. We submit to honest self-evaluation.
We seek perspectives of others with whom we disagree and listen to their positions. We refuse to dehumanize philosophical opponents. We avoid partisan rhetoric and bickering in our own discourse. We believe a new type of politics is possible. We seek to form consensus with others, including those with whom with disagree. We take direction from Abraham Lincoln’s words: I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend.
Measure success, Maximize disappointments We set concrete goals, such as ‘register 100 voters ages 18-24 by May 1.’ We establish plans of action to realize our goals. We assess our own progress based on concrete achievements, such as ‘successfully fundraised $500 dollars for campaign by September 30.’ We determine what steps we must take to push further toward our goals. When we falter or struggle, we seek out lessons to guide our future actions.
We respond to apathy, indifference, and despair with a belief in possibility. We seek solutions. We find answers. We expect more – of each other, of our leaders, and of ourselves. We do not ignore actions or comments that promote cynicism. We do not let the cynicism of others influence our own audacious hope. We live our lives in such a way that they become proof against pessimism.
O.B.A.M.A. That is how I think of it.
Beginning here, taking root in these commitments and potentially others like them, I believe Obama’s supporters will play a historic role in electing Obama, and therein restoring our nation. We have already proven that we are willing to take steps in our own lives to serve that mission and spread this message. Now we must look squarely at our own lives and start planning how we individually can make that mission a certainty and that message a reality.