Putting the "We" Back in Yes We Can
109 years ago this month, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American to dine at the White House by invitation of President Theodore Roosevelt. National furor and riots arose over the social implications of this historic moment. Sometimes it seems, that the current fury from the right- from the Tea Party to the Birthers is once again, at root, due to a man of color being in the White House. But even among Democrats and liberals, there is a lot of finger pointing at the Obama administration.
Recently, I heard something that made me look deeply at the constant critique of President Obama. At the 4th Annual Ella Awards, among a host of powerful speakers, Van Jones took the mic. Mr. Jones shared about his admiration, respect and trust in President Barack Obama to lead this country. As someone who worked in the White House with President Obama for six months, he has a much closer understanding of the workings of the Administration than the average citizen. At the same time, Van reminded us that the work of making our country more just, equitable, safe and healthy is on all of us; not just on the President.
After all, Van reminded us, the rallying cry of the campaign was “Yes We Can,” not, as too many Americans are behaving, “Yes He Can.”
I, myself, am guilty of just this thing. I followed the health care debate/debacle, but really only peripherally. Once it seemed that truly universal health care and a public option weren’t going to happen, I kind of tuned out. Yet, the health care bill that did pass has many important steps forward. And I certainly can’t agree with the “Candidate So-and-So Voted for Obama’s Health Care Bill” blame game that is playing out in elections across the country.
Others of my peers constantly critique Obama’s lack of action on measures of importance to the LGBTQ community including Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ENDA, and a comprehensive safe schools bill. Sure- for those for whom these laws are crucial- it might seem like the President hasn’t followed through (and believe me, ENDA and the Safe Schools Bill are both of huge impact and importance to me). But I also want to celebrate simple but monumental events in the last two years. President Obama has been the first President in history to mention LGBTQ families and Americans in his speeches from election night to White House proclamations. He recently made a Video in response to the spike in LGBTQ teen suicides that truly gave me chills. And has appointed more openly LGBTQ individuals to his administration then any other leader of the US.
There have been times when I have looked to President Obama for leadership, or at the very list a response and wisdom and had to mourn their absence. For example, the result of the trial of Johannes Mehserle for the murder of Oscar Grant or the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. There are times where I have wondered if I am seeing the change I believed in so strongly while working to elect Mr. Obama.
And while I have grumbled about all this and more, I am just as imperfect as President Obama. The election of President Obama was so powerful precisely because it created a movement of engaged and inspired people working towards a common goal.
That’s why I’ll be working with Oakland Rising and Soul of the City this weekend to help get out the vote. That’s why I have stopped ignoring the emails I receive from President Obama and Organizing for America and started engaging with them more. And that’s why I am asking you to join me in recommitting to the spirit of “Yes We Can.” Bringing justice, change, and opportunity to all of the country’s communities and residents relies on more than just our President- it’s about all of us.