The day after Barack Obama was elected as our next President, Ethan Bronner wrote in the New York Times…
“There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth – – call it America – – where such a thing happens.”
No matter who we supported in the election, I suspect that now each of us feels pride that our nation overcame its past and dared to reinvent its future. But in sending Mr. Obama to the White House, we did more than send “a black man of modest origin” – – we sent ourselves. Like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” we sent a man that has some part in him that resembles something good and constructive in each one of us.
So why not go beyond metaphor and actually send ourselves to Washington? Given the economic crisis and the imposing challenges ahead – – from climate change to a widening gulf between haves and have-nots – – now is the time to answer the question posed to a nation more than four decades ago. Knowing that he will find his own soaring and inspirational rhetoric, I doubt Mr. Obama will repeat John Kennedy’s challenge, but it’s hard not to hear those words like a song we can’t get out of our heads – – “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
So let’s “go to Washington” with our new President by offering a literal answer to that question this time. If every American and every business volunteered to do one thing to make our communities safer, more prosperous, and more equitable, that would equate to over 300 million contributions to a better America. We could commit to spend a few hours a week helping out at a local school or senior center; we could pound nails for groups like Habitat for Humanity; we could adopt a classroom and help teachers get supplies and extra books; we could pledge a small % of our profits to charities that do many of these things for us.
If each of us does one small thing, to quote another great President “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.” But the impact of those contributions will amount to more than any bailout plan Congress or our new President could devise. We will work our way out of the current challenges, economic and otherwise, much faster and with much more hope and joy in our hearts than by waiting timidly for Washington to do it all for us.
In the end, we will remind the world that is indeed America…”where such a thing happens.”