Like many of you I responded to Howard Dean's clarion call in his magnificent March 2003 "What I want to Know" speech. Eight days after electing our first black president Dean's closing paragraph seems especially poignant:
"I want my country back! We want our country back! I am tired of being divided! I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore! I want America to look like America, where we are all included, hand in hand. We have dream. We can only reach the dream if we are all together - black and white, gay and straight, man and woman. America! The Democratic Party! We are going to win in 2004! Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Stand up for America, Stand up for America, Stand up for America!!"One of the first things I did the morning after Obama's election was re-read the entire text of that speech. Howard Dean started the fire that achieved critical mass with Barack Obama's candidacy. He would make an ideal choice to be Secretary of Health and Human Services and Obama should pick him over anyone else.
Four years ago while phone-banking for John Kerry I realized Democrats were in trouble when speaking to an out of work laborer who claimed he preferred Bush because Kerry wanted to "take my gun." Several weeks ago I felt a spark of hope when calling a blue collar man in Ohio who observed that "Maybe I have more in common with blacks who know something about hardship than those fat cats on Wall Street."
Shamefully, even as we elected our first black President the electorate displayed intense homophobia with numerous ugly state ballot propositions as was the case in California. Gay rights are human rights and we can't ignore the dignity of homosexual Americans while celebrating Obama's achievement. I suspect President Obama will not want to expend political capital on the cause of gay rights while dealing with the economy. Hence, the human rights of our fellow citizens will have to be taken up on the grass roots level to facilitate change.
Overall, we progressive/liberal activists must remain vigilant. Already the corporatist theocratic vultures are circling and claiming Obama doesn't have a mandate for anything beyond being different than George W. Bush. We must not let them get away with it. Now is not the time to go wobbly and accept "half a loaf" while millions don't have health insurance, wage earners and small business entrepreneurs are under siege, people in poverty are ignored and America's infrastructure is crumbling. Now is not the time to become hesitant while our planet is faced with the calamity of global warming and America's military continues to occupy two countries. Now is not the time for caution while America is competing in a global economy with a second rate education system.
It is up to us to embolden President Obama, congressional Democrats as well as governors and state legislatures when they're addressing the moral center of economic and social justice, civil liberties and transitioning America from an empire culture to become better global citizens. In doing so they will be virulently attacked by elements of the old order such as the corporatist media, economic predators and religious zealots.
Equally important though is that we never neglect our roles as truth tellers when progressive core values are compromised for expediency. The first step was winning on November 4th. However, there remain plenty of Democrats who supported torture and looked the other way during the worst excesses of the Bush Administration. We should seize opportunities to challenge them in upcoming primaries as a reminder that we have long memories and have taken names.
The years ahead will be lean thanks the mess left behind by the conservative nomenklatura. Municipalities and industries nationwide are severely strapped as multiple sectors of our economy are in a crisis mode. Geopolitically, the world is not only confronted with global warming but the economic collateral damage of globalization.
Yet I am cautiously optimistic we'll dig our way through. Necessity is a mother to invention and even following the dark legacy of predatory conservatism I still believe we can achieve a society based upon liberty and justice for all.