I'm celebrating the last few hours of the presidency of a man I helped to elect. There will be those who say he ran on a platform of change but did not make any. Do not believe them.
Against an incredible and quite racist backlash, President Obama pushed through ambitious legislation which left us, on balance, a more perfect Union than we were when we started. More Americans have access to more opportunities than ever before and more access to redress of grievances should they be mistreated. He worked to minimize the effects of the Great Recession. He diversified both the executive and judicial branches, including at the highest levels of government, and he diversified the types of art that are officially nationally appreciated. He recommitted America to nuclear non-proliferation and arms reduction. And he did it all while being an involved father to his children, a loving spouse to his wife Michelle, and a dutiful brother to his siblings.
There are, of course, both areas in which I wholeheartedly disagree with his approach and think we regressed and areas in which I am disappointed with his lack of action or the meager progress he made. Still, I am proud to have worked for him, proud to call him my president, and proud to begin listing him as one of my former presidents beginning later today.
The first First Lady I remember well is Hillary Clinton. Although my parents had to explain to me how new and unusual it was to have a working woman be the First Lady, her brilliance and commitment to the public good inspired my young feminist self. Watching Michelle Obama for (more than) these past eight years has been an absolute joy. Hillary, part of my mother's generation, fought and fights the kind of feminist battle Michelle benefited from - that we all benefited from. And Michelle daily moves us closer to global safety, independence, equality for women and girls. She is a true leader and I look forward to seeing what she will be up to next.
Working for OFA changed my life. For me, it was not an expression of youthful idealism. There were other candidates in '08 whose political views more closely conformed to mine than did Obama's. I viewed him then, as I do now, as a pragmatist. I did hope that he could create a more transparent (and therefore trustworthy) government, and his failure to do so (and in fact his moves toward more secrecy) remains my biggest disappointment of the last eight years. But even eight years ago I wasn't holding my breath on that one.
But working for OFA changed my life. It allowed me to re-encounter my hometown as an adult, exploring amazing places I never previously thought worth my attention. It introduced me to friends I would never have otherwise met and bonded us with a core of experiences that I treasure. I gained my Obama family. I learned so much, not only about public policy and how to campaign, not only many of the technical skills I have since put to use professionally, but even about people. And how what makes each of us tick individually somehow combines into the representative democratic experiment we call America.
The current political climate - that seems the euphemism of choice - creates a temptation to fall into the trap of declaring our 45th president not to be mine. This was also a popular expression of discontent in the George W. Bush years, and I did not then fall into that trap, even though the case for delegitimization was compelling. Because I can claim a president to be the leader of my country without agreeing with that person's views or decisions. Because for now, I live in a place where that remains not only possible, but enshrined as my right. And if I claim to have no ties to the leader of my country, I cannot see myself to be in any way responsible for the actions America takes under that leader. But though I may not personally approve of or consent to actions our next president will take, I assent to our system of government and affirm my role within it not only on election day. I cannot pretend I can absolve myself of the consequences of Trump's leadership. My responsibility to stop his agenda didn't end when the electors cast their ballots for him. Today it will truly start in earnest.
There are those who see the diversity of opinions and approaches on the left as a detriment to the goal of stopping America from adopting Trump's agenda. They claim we must be unified but they mean we must be uniform. When we disallow dissent we become no longer radical but reactionary. Still, we must organize across our differences of opinion, approach, and priorities if we are restrain our next leader. This does not mean we need to relinquish our own convictions.
I am very grateful to have benefited from the Obama years and to have been able to do my part to make them happen. I pray that we experience a seamless, peaceful transition of power. And that we can again.