Barack Obama has been the President-Elect for the better part of a week, and the celebrating and euphoria are subsiding as we watch him gear up for the serious work ahead. We'll be watching him for the next four years at least, as he tries to sort out the mess this country and the world are in. No doubt we'll be elated and pleased part of the time, frustrated and disappointed at other times. But basically, the all-consuming activities of campaigning and obsessive election-watching are over, save for a few pockets of uncertainty in lesser races around the country.
One thing we're still trying to figure out is what role We the People will play in the years ahead. Grassroots efforts and adventures in community organizing are widely credited with having helped to elect Barack Obama, but that's a fait accompli. Now what? The vibe of the moment is not, "Thanks, I'll take it from here." It's more of a JFK-style call to arms, to "ask what you can do for your country." That night in Grant Park, the new President-Elect said,
"And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people."
Okay, great. Just one little question. What, exactly, do you want me to do?
If you want me to write about issues of the day as my conscience dictates, I can do that. If you want me to design a button or work on a website, I can do that. But really, I doubt that a blog entry or a button is going to help the economy much, or save any lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, or help with alternative energy and global warming and such. The last time a President asked a button to do anything substantial was a when President Gerald R Ford introduced "WIN" buttons. "WIN" stood for "Whip Inflation Now." As I recall, inflation continued on its merry way, unflagellated and unrepentant.
As a 51-year-old introspective, sedentary peacenik with a husband and two dogs, I'm exceedingly unlikely to join the Peace Corps or the armed services. I've been out of work for two months, and money is tight, so I cannot support a cause financially. I can give a little time, locally, if that helps and I don't use too much gas; but really, my number one job now ought to be to get a job. Except that nobody around here is hiring staff accountants except for the health industry. And they all want people with experience in the health industry. Unemployment nationally is up to 6.5%. There was a sound byte yesterday that basically said that the economy seemed to hit the off switch on September 15th. Lovely. That was six days after my last job ended.
So I guess I'll watch and wait for a more specific request, and meanwhile try to figure out how to cope with the changes that affect me personally. With the election over, I'm trying to revive what I can of my old life as I wait for a shot at another job. Tonight I watched a lot of Doctor Who and two episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, read my much-reduced Twitter feed and made considerable progress on my backlog of commenting on Round Robin and Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot entries. Oh, and I scrubbed down the microwave oven a little. But that's not change, except with respect to the last couple of weeks. If I'm going to go back to old behaviors, I should cast further back as well, and work on the novels. I ought to be able to concentrate on that again, now that the election isn't hoarding my brain cells.
Maybe I need to adapt and apply that Obama campaign slogan: not just "Yes We Can," but "Yes I Can." I always used to be annoyed when my mom or my brother would respond to a suggestion with "Yes, but..." and explain why nothing can be accomplished. I'm sure I've been guilty of that, too. So okay, let's try that hope and positive thinking stuff, and work for a change to a better future. Yes I can.
But what exactly it is that "I can" do, and WILL do, remains to be seen.