Season of Possibility Dawns With Obama Swearing-In Today

Posted January 16, 2009 at 5:18pm

In his pamphlet, “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine rallied his fellow countrymen by telling them, “You have the power to begin the world over again.” Barack Obama sent a similar message to his fellow Americans on election night: “This is our moment. This is our time.” As it did for Paine in his day more than 200 years ago, so too does this day mark the beginning of a new era in our history, a new season of possibilities.

[IMGCAP(1)]We can unite our country and help restore America’s image in the world. We can reignite the passion of freedom, liberty, human rights and respect for the rule of law and justice — not only in America but around the world. Yes, we can.

In my humble opinion, the most important message that Obama’s inaugural address can send to the American people and to those watching this historic moment around the globe is that, under his presidency, there will be a burnishing and empowerment of the too-often tarnished and trampled “We, the people.” His address should inspire us to meet the challenges facing our nation, dare us to dream and remind us that we are all in this together. And it should speak to us and about us — who we are as a people and how we must be as a nation.

On my flight home last week from Nigeria, I met a middle-aged Arab man at London’s Heathrow International Airport who, upset with the daily horrors in Gaza and the death toll of innocent people on both sides of the border, wanted to know whether our new president would be balanced in his world views, especially in the Middle East.

My initial response was to give him the talking points that I repeatedly spew out about Obama and his administration: “Obama will reignite the peace process in the Middle East. He will have to rebuild alliances, re-establish trust and help both sides come up with a new framework for lasting peace … blah, blah, blah.”

The man, clearly agitated, pressed me to explain whether Obama would be a honest broker for “both sides — the Jews as well as the Palestinians?”

“Yes,” I responded, “the United States will not abandon peace as a shared goal for the Middle East. But Hamas must renounce violence in order to have a voice in the process.”

The man walked away, looking down at the floor. I found myself somewhat unhappy that my remarks did not bring him comfort. Impulsively, I ran up to him and said, “Look at me! I am a child who grew up in America’s segregated south. Many in my family participated in one of the world’s largest movements for change, the struggle for civil rights. This was achieved in America because we believed in nonviolence and we sought to peacefully agitate for change.”

He looked at me with the smallest of smiles in his eyes and responded, “You were successful. I hope we too can find a way to create lasting change at home.”

The stranger and I parted company. I ran like hell to catch my flight home. As the plane took off, I went over the conversation in my head and realized anew that as Americans, we must recommit ourselves daily to delivering the message that each and every person born on earth has certain inalienable rights by the simple fact of their existence. No man or woman is superior to another in their right to live in peace and enjoy the liberties God has given each and every one of us.

There are great expectations for our new president. People, both in America and around the world, are eager to hope again. I know deep down in my gut that the events of this coming week will be stirring, not just during the formal ceremonies that will end with a black man and his family walking through the front door of the White House that they will call home.

It will be the new collective spirit stirring in the hearts and minds of people everywhere that will most stir my soul today. And it will be this collective spirit that Obama will call on in the difficult days ahead when he asks us to sacrifice for the common good.

This is also time for the new president to be bold in his thinking and vision of what American can become during this new era of change and hope. In Obama we have a true American leader whose spiritual and intellectual viewpoints are inclusive and optimistic. We have someone who truly believes, “Yes, we can.” But does he have the political sense of what the public is ready to do? What the people must be prepared, in stages, to do?

In any period of change, people are uncertain, anxious and yet optimistic. As for me, I want to walk away after listening to his inaugural address with the feeling that we have arrived at a new chapter in American history, one in which my skin color will no longer be a barrier, one in which I am, finally and forever, just an American. By giving Obama the presidency, America gave itself the power to begin all over again. This time, let’s get it right.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.