In a suburban school speaking competition I was transfixed within a world of aspiration. Politics was moving in spirit and substance. Guantanamo would close. Iraq’s occupation would end. Corruption and lobbying would retreat. Healthcare and social justice would flourish. Racial divisions would heal.
An upsurge of democratic participation was re-writing American society and before my young eyes it was a generational moment of reckoning and renewal. Who could blame us for euphoria. That horrific furnace of 9/11 – the searing sight of a younger year – was extinguished by blasts of soothing rhetoric: the inspiration of Obama’s Iowa address. We would look back and remember “that this was the moment when it all began”, he said.
Today I look back. I see the stubborn shutters of Guantanamo Bay. I see the 100,000 contracters in Iraq. I see the expansion of lobbyist freedom. I see 46.4 million American who require food stamps to afford to eat in increasing friction with Wall Street profligacy. Worst of all, I see the proliferation of Western wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Four years of realism stings deeply like tear gas.
Yet tonight, as I join friends in the whooping and wailing of partisan politics, I will not regret the hopes of the past. I will ignore, temporarily, the deep similarities in economic-military policy to instead consider the choice of lesser evils. I will hope once again that the slight shards of liberal light – movement on equal pay, movement on healthcare, movement on equal marriage – matter for a more equal world. I will remember Jesse Jackson’s tearing face; yet still heed his realism for 2012. Even idealists like myself must remember that realities are at stake beyond their principles. After all, we know the opposition. What have Conservatives ever changed?
In four years we see ambitions crushed in one form and born in another. The ‘radicalism’ of Obama is now the radicalism of Occupy. Some call it naïve to believe that fundamental change will ever occur. Yet such cynics are oblivious even when it does. Obama’s election night story of Ann Nixon Cooper encapsulated this; how a society can move from brutal lynchings a little closer to equality; and why there is so much more to do. Our hope is necessary. It predicates change, however diluted that change may become. It has a powerful audacity. It is the hope we have when we say ‘Another Scotland is Possible’. It is the hope, imagination, creativity that the Scotland debate and the wider world needs. Tonight it will fill my thoughts.