A good friend of mine will be attending President Barack Obama’s farewell address tonight in Chicago. She had a few thoughts about the finality of his presidency, surviving the next four years, and where we as a nation go from here. First, a word of advice from her:
“We all have a lot of work to do. In whatever way we help, there is something each of us can do to make a difference. We need to hold our officials accountable – now more than ever. Stay vigilant. Stay active. You don’t need a title to create change.”
Here are her thoughts in full, reprinted with her permission, and only minor formatting edits.
Tonight Obama will deliver his farewell address. While I was so excited to have gotten a ticket, I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions since I picked it up on Saturday; well, since November 8th to be honest. Anticipating attending the speech made me pretty nostalgic.
I remember watching the ’04 DNC at home in Broken Arrow, OK as a young, ambitious, somewhat naive liberal in the reddest state in the country… not knowing how out of place I truly was. An up and coming young senator from Illinois took the stage and commanded a presence, even through the TV. While I listened to Obama speak that night, I sat up a little straighter, paid a little more attention and felt this rush of excitement well up inside me.
Reading the words of that speech now takes me right back to that moment but this time instead of the excited flutter, my throat tightens as I fight back tears. I never would have guessed how much that speech and that man would come to mean to me and this country. He spoke about hope and unity, he told us we could do better and while we’ve come a long way, there was a lot more work to do. I believed him. I had hope. So much in fact that I joined the almost nonexistent Young Democrats club at my high school, comprised of four students and our fateful pysch teacher. During one of our meetings some young volunteers came to talk to us about helping out with the Brad Carson for Senate campaign. Say no more; I’m there.
I drove almost an hour to downtown Tulsa after school for weeks to stuff envelopes, knock on doors and call voters. I was convinced Brad was the man for the job. He even stopped by the campaign headquarters one day to thank us personally. What a mensch. I knew he would win, I could feel it. Election night came and I sat on that same couch with hope in my heart and a big bowl of ice cream on my lap. The results started coming in. Brad was down, way down. Then he lost to Tom Coburn, who became one of the most conservative members in the Senate. I was devastated. Heartbroken. The hope that Obama inspired me to work towards slipped away.
My early intense love for politics simmered to a vague interest after that. I went to college, majored in pysch and went about my business. Then the ’08 election season started. There was a rather large pool of candidates and Hilary Clinton seemed to have a clear lead and major name recognition. But then that hopeful guy that sparked a love of politics in me and so many others a few years back started to gain.
I threw myself into his campaign. I felt that rush of excitement again. I was a part of not just a campaign, but a movement. I drove all over Kansas knocking on doors, getting chased by dogs, yelled at by retirees and the like.
I loved every minute of it. He was my guy, he was our guy. I worked at two of his rallies in Kansas and watched him wow the crowd with his youthful energy and bright ideas. After the 2nd rally, a group of us volunteers got a tip about which hotel he was staying at. We drove furiously in hopes of beating him there and lined up outside to welcome him.
He arrived, got out of the car and froze as that famous smile slowly appeared. He was genuinely shocked we had waited for so long just to see him. He walked up and down the line, shaking each of our hands, thanking us for our work and after a very long day gave us an impromptu pep talk. His hands were soft, his words were heartfelt and that hope felt so real. After that we all dug in to make sure he would be our next president.
In Kansas we do this wild thing during the primaries: we caucus. I was volunteering that night and my job was to count all our voters. No pressure…
Watching that evening unfold was one of the coolest experiences. It was literally democracy in action. People debated, tried to bribe others with homemade desserts, gave rallying speeches and tried their hardest to convince the undecideds to join them. After a few rounds and a very close count, Obama won our district’s primary and I got to deliver the results. I was overjoyed for our team and our candidate and confident he would go on to win the election. As they say – the rest is history.
I switched my major to PoliSci, worked as a community organizer in Chicago just like Obama and continued to watch his speeches just as I did on my couch back in Oklahoma with the same fluttering feeling.
I was in New York City on election night this past November, watching the results with friends, wearing our pantsuits with champagne at the ready. As the results came in, we switched from wine to vodka finally calling it a night around midnight. This haunting feeling came over me. I walked into the street in a daze, hopped in my Uber and back to my hotel where I switched back and forth from the results and my Twitter feed. During the wee hours of the night, they finally called it. I was stunned for a moment then burst into tears that turned into uncontrollable sobs as my mind spun out of control with disbelief, anger and fear. I stayed up until dawn watching the news trying to make sense of it all.
The next day New York was dark and gloomy. It felt like the city was in mourning. I fought back tears all day and my throat ached on the plane ride home as I tried to keep my composure. Everyone seemed quiet, looking down as if to apologize to one another and offer condolences. That hopeful feeling I held onto for so long, that Obama inspired within me and so many others, was nowhere to be found.
Last night as I scrolled through Facebook – avoiding the looming basket of laundry I needed to put away – I stumbled upon a post from R.T. Rybak, former Mayor of Minneapolis. He had just come back from the farewell party at the White House and recounted his feelings from that night and how they changed from hollowness to hopefulness after a conversation with Obama.
When asked what Obama would do after leaving the White House, he told R.T. about the work he will be doing with youth and families, on getting more people engaged in voting, on protecting liberties.
Then he said the words that meant the most to me: “The best is yet to come.”
After everything Obama’s been through, this country has been through and the world has been through, the man still has hope. Along with R.T., I needed to hear those words. Even if I can’t quite see Obama’s vision right now, I need to believe in those words and the ones I’m anxiously awaiting to hear tonight.
— by Ali Terkel