In 1980, I cast my first ballot. My choices were Ronald Reagan (with George Bush Sr. as his running mate) or Jimmy Carter, who was widely perceived to be an inept leader – not so different from the situation of George W. Bush. As a child who grew up during the tumult of the 1960s, I had looked forward to exercising my right to vote to support those who would work to bring to fruition the work and dreams of Martin Luther King. Instead, I was chagrined by these limited choices and not very hopeful about the future. Reagan won a landslide and ushered in the “Reagan Revolution,” dismantling safety nets, launching military actions around the world, and taking on organized labor to the lasting detriment of the middle class.
My daughter has come of age during a vastly different time. These last eight years she has lived through an era dominated by a president whose arrogance and hubris have embroiled us in a dangerous and expensive war, led the country into an economic crisis, and engaged in an attack on basic civil rights and liberties that will take decades to repair. Tomorrow she goes to the polls for the first time and may very well enjoy, in these next eight years, an era of huge transformations in our government. I’m not naïve – politicians inevitably disappoint – but I have never before seen in my life the potential for a major shift in how the United States relates to itself or to the world.
Tomorrow my daughter has the option of voting for an African American man for president; she has the option of voting for a woman as vice-president. It took far too long but this is an amazing moment in history and I feel terribly inspired and, yes, hopeful.
This word has been bandied about since Barak Obama began seriously running for president. As we take to the polls, the nation is now chanting it but I wanted to stop for a moment and reflect on what it means for me.
The dictionary defines hope as “desire with expectation.” It can be a noun, as in one of the three Christian virtues, in addition to faith and love. The Jewish national anthem – Hatikva – means “the hope.” It can be a verb, an action. We use this word so loosely, peppering our sentences with it each day. But, at its most profound, it is at the core of our deepest desires and so powerful that it can defeat the most formidable of obstacles.
I believe in the feeling of hope that attends beginnings – the birth of a child, the first day of the school year or a new job, a first election.
I believe in the sustaining power of hope. Hope sustained Anne Frank when she wrote in her diary while confined to an attic jail from which she did not know whether she would ever be free. Hope sustained Nelson Mandela when, after years of bitter violence, he sat down with the white ruling government of South Africa to negotiate a new government and Constitution. Hope sustained Mahatma Gandhi when he in silent protest showing the world a new way of social action.
I believe in the energy of hope: hope can propel people out of poverty, scientists to invent life-saving drugs, and the ill to survive seemingly fatal disease.
I believe in the inherent risks embodied in hope: hope can spur a firefighter to run into a blazing building, and inventors to come up with life-changing innovations. Hope inspires creative acts.
When Langston Hughes wrote in 1936 that “we, the people, must redeem our land, the mines, the plants, the rivers, the mountains and the endless plain…the stretch of these great green states – and make America again,” he released hope, and his words rose above the anger, sorrow, and pain of legal segregation and racism in this country. When those dispossessed by Hurricane Katrina returned to New Orleans, they embraced the hope that their city would be rebuilt.
Of all the virtues, the Gods concealed Hope among the evil spirits contained within Pandora’s box. As Edith Hamilton said, “it remains to this day mankind’s sole comfort in misfortune.”
I am not sure where my own feelings of hope come from – of course, to some degree, from having kind and generous parents. But I think that I really found hope as a child watching amazing events and terrible things — the March on Washington, the Detroit riots, and the assassination of President Kennedy and Dr. King. It was a time of anger for many; but for me it inspired hope that the world can be changed through individual acts of compassion and ambitious dreams of freedom and justice.
So, tomorrow my daughter and I go to the polls. We vote with the hope that our treasured democracy will make us proud as every person who has the right to vote is able to cast his or her vote free from intimidation and have that vote be counted accurately. We cast our vote for the dreams no longer deferred.
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