When you visited my home state of Minnesota a few days ago, you said that the letter you received from Rebekah was a "statement of hope." That inspired me. I've been thinking about writing to you for a long time now. I finally decided to do that as my own statement of hope.
I grew up being interested in politics. As far as I can remember, what first awakened that was President John F. Kennedy's challenge, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That struck a chord deep inside me. I've always been pretty independent, so I don't tend to need much from anyone...much less my government. But I've also always known that I have something to give. It wasn't often that potential was called upon. That's why I resonated so profoundly with President Kennedy's words. They hit on a different kind of need. The one you often talk about when you mention your own desire to be part of something larger than yourself.
In subsequent years, what I heard most from politicians who were running for office was what they could do for me. That message made me feel like a victim rather than a participant. And so I'd always tune it out and move on. By the time you announced your candidacy for President, I'd pretty much given up hope of ever really being inspired again. I knew that I needed to vote - that was the least I could do. But it seemed like politics was a game being played by the rich and powerful in Washington. The deck seemed stacked against anyone like me having a real role to play.
It was when I heard about "Camp Obama" that I began to notice that something was different about your campaign. So I started to pay attention. To make a long story short, I got inspired back then and have been on a roll ever since.
Your speech at the 2012 Democratic Convention struck that same chord with me that I heard from President Kennedy.
We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.I have to admit that as I've watched you over these last few years there are times that I've cringed at the level of trust you are willing to place in the American people. Seeing the ugliness of those who are driven by fear and rage, I often feel that trust is unwarranted. But then I have to ask myself, "what is the alternative?" A true embrace of our democratic ideals means we have no other choice.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.
Perhaps you saw what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote back in 2008 shortly after your election about how your faith in the American people places you squarley in the footsteps of those who took the same risk.
Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined -- in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.As I come to the end of writing, I can see more clearly why you called doing so a statement of hope. My original intention was to tell you what your leadership has meant to me. In the process I've reminded myself to live up to my own ideals.
My own trust in the American people tells me that I'm not the only one who is stirred by your call to citizenship. Realizing "what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government" strikes a longing deep in many of us to be active participants rather than simply passive recipients. I wanted to take a moment to say "thank you" for igniting that passion in my spirit once again.
I'll always have your back.