Discourse / Editorials / November 12, 2008

Reflections on change

I am so proud of those who participated in the huge celebration after Obama’s victory last Tuesday aptly titled “Obamaramanomenon!” In those moments, I was glad I had chosen to attend a small college: I walked, screamed, and danced not with a crowd of strangers, but with classmates, friends, and loved ones.

Let me say that while the event was spontaneous, its genesis was more complex than hundreds of people simultaneously deciding to march into Galesburg. Instead, a few students, grounded in the long legacy of subtler student activism (participating in organizations like SASS, and APA; attending Bioneers and other conferences), started the walk outside Post Lobby right after Obama’s speech ended. The elated stroll down West Street became a march when chants, some of which Knox students had developed at the most recent Bioneers conference last month in Carbondale, broke out. The chanting gave this small group the energy that drew students out of their homes as we passed the apartments and headed toward the Quads. Passing Post again, there were already over one hundred students marching and chanting. Many of the faces I had seen before, deeply engaged in club events and volunteerism. We are strong here at Knox, and it was largely the inspired improvising of a few active students that tapped into the overwhelming energy generated by an unprecedented election. Once the group hit the Quads, the already rumbling crowd erupted, and the march took on a life of its own. Thank you everyone, particularly the musicians who ingeniously started funking out as the glorious throng returned to Knox. Awesome.

Remember though, that not everyone was so enthused by the election results. That night, a friend who had voted for Nader and does not support the two-party system wondered: if Obama claims he will unite the parties, “does that mean we will have a one-party system?” I sat in on an FP class the next day. One student bravely criticized the presumptuous “we” others were using… “We won.” Not everybody voted for Obama.

These concerns are valid and integral to progress. Despite the power that comes from unity and excitement, a democracy needs diverse and dissenting voices to keep the majority in check. While some of us revel in being part of a voting majority for the first time in our lives, be aware that the line is blurry between a united force and a tyrannous mob. We need to communicate, with all members of our community. Excitement will not help us if we gleefully run off a cliff together, or worse, oppress others. Let us demand and ensure that all voices are listened to respectfully. To those who are celebrating, we must also not allow our satisfaction to lead to complacency.

I love celebration, but in the long run, electing a president must be more than pushing the button for your favorite song on a jukebox; the song plays if enough people pick the same tune, and those who agreed with the choice dance until it is over.

In Grant Park that night, Obama himself said, “Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.” Joy need not fade away, but as we move forward, perhaps we can now celebrate the change with activism and hard work. This is our country, and the government is our tool. I believe the tool just became more responsive, so let us take this inspiration forward.

Finally, regardless of your feelings on the presidential election, I believe that as members of the Knox community, you have many reasons to be inspired by the march that took place last Tuesday night.

No matter what kind of social change you think we need, I guarantee it will demand people breaking habits and coming together peacefully and locally, as they did in this march. Change begins within each of us. The fundamental next step for change is, instead of addressing how you and the White House interact, to focus on reducing the space and improving the relationships between you and the people around you.

Regardless of the presidency, we are the current and future citizens of Knox, and the world. Life is beautiful, and life is threatened. We are the planet. If we want humanity to survive, we must strive to love, create, change and communicate.

Here’s something to ponder over winter break: What now?

The world is hoping for solutions. And somewhere around here are several hundred optimistic young people who marched and chanted, “Yes we can!” for a few hours last week. I sure hope they meant more than “Yes, we can elect a president.” They are part of the change we need, and so are you. Today and tomorrow, people are needed to imagine, provide, critique, revise, implement, and evaluate those solutions. Where do you fit in?

Joey Firman

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