It didn't take a four-year crawl back from a financial industry meltdown to make Obama warn that change is slow and frustrating and unromantic. Understanding change as a joint project of leader and led is a concept that Obama has held, and expressed, since he was a 24 year-old neophyte organizer.Amidst all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about what President Obama should/shouldn't have done in the debate, I appreciate this reminder more than I can say. Certainly the President has his job to do. But when that's ALL we can see or talk about, we forget something critical he's been trying to tell us for a very long time.
We can do this. It will not be easy. It will require struggle and sacrifice. There will setbacks and we will make mistakes. And that is why we need all the help we can get. So tonight I want to speak directly to all those Americans who have yet to join this movement but still hunger for change - we need you. We need you to stand with us, and work with us, and help us prove that together, ordinary people can still do extraordinary things.The pundits don't understand this and likely never will. They want to put all the focus on the leader and pretend like his performance is all that matters.
I am blessed to be standing in the city where my own extraordinary journey began. A few miles from here, in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant, is where I learned what it takes to make change happen.
I was a young organizer then, intent on fighting joblessness and poverty on the South Side, and I still remember one of the very first meetings I put together. We had worked on it for days, but no one showed up. Our volunteers felt so defeated, they wanted to quit. And to be honest, so did I.
But at that moment, I looked outside and saw some young boys tossing stones at a boarded-up apartment building across the street. They were like boys in so many cities across the country - boys without prospects, without guidance, without hope. And I turned to the volunteers, and I asked them, "Before you quit, I want you to answer one question. What will happen to those boys?" And the volunteers looked out that window, and they decided that night to keep going - to keep organizing, keep fighting for better schools, and better jobs, and better health care. And so did I. And slowly, but surely, in the weeks and months to come, the community began to change.
You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.
We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have little; who've been told that they cannot have what they dream; that they cannot be what they imagine.
Yes they can.
We are the hope of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake with doubts that tell him he cannot give his children the same opportunities that someone gave him.
Yes he can.
We are the hope of the woman who hears that her city will not be rebuilt; that she cannot reclaim the life that was swept away in a terrible storm.
Yes she can.
We are the hope of the future; the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided; that we cannot come together; that we cannot remake this world as it should be.
President Obama has been saying all along that that's NOT how change happens. Its actually how we strip ourselves of our own power and give it away.
So perhaps next time you're feeling down about something going on in this election and become tempted by the demon of cynicism, its time to take a look at that face in the mirror.
If not now...when?