Rethinking ‘Yes, We Can!’

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@2012 Andrea Morisette Grazzini

This quote by President Barack Obama captures a hidden, but essentially American, reality:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states … But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.”

Obama’s words recognize America for what it is: a Country of “we” and “us.” And, alludes to what evidence proves: that splitting our Country into disparate parts is not only un-constructive, it is, quite literally, unrepresentative of collectively who we are.

All-knowing ‘We’

I know conservatives who’ll vote ‘No’ in my state, twice. Once against Voter ID and once, against a Marriage Amendment. I know fundamentalists married to bleeding heart liberals. Pastors who officiate gay union ceremonies, priests who’d like to officiate gay weddings (if not be married, themselves). I know progressive Bible-thumpers, liberals who attend Mosque and religiously atheist conservatives. I know Muslims who support military occupation in Islamic countries and Veterans fighting for non-militarized peace. I know woman who hunt, male feminists. Liberal CEOs, some women. And caring conservatives, some men.

You know an equally diverse mix, too. (Even if you haven’t, yet, noticed).  We all do.

Founders, not pundits’, words

Except, perhaps, the pundits. Perhaps they’ve been too busy parroting politicians’ ‘key phrases’ to reflect the reality they (as real people) share. That is, when they’re not serving as cogs in the wheels of the political machines that produce their paychecks.

Our Founders’ jaws would drop. Given they obsessed to develop a clear declaration of ‘We the People.’ Of course, they had fewer pundits back then. And those few had less power to re-define what the Founders created.

The essential characteristic of this new United States was that all different types of people, coming from all different views, are perceived equally and as critical to its sustained strength. As a result, each would have full access and Right to define not only themselves, but also Country.

Me + Us = Liberty and Freedom

These Rights, so familiar in name if not practice, were ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty.’ Meant for all to achieve as equally individual “I’s,” and diverse fellow Americans—together producing our united “We.”

This “Me-plus-We” ethos implied the United States couldn’t thrive without many different citizens co-constructing it.  And, insured citizens’ individual lives would likewise benefit from the Country they contributed to—however they could.

The Founders wanted Americans to understand neither Country nor citizens can survive without the ‘other.’

It’s what Obama means when he says no one built America alone. And, as his “Yes, We Can!” 2008 campaign asserted: neither is our government capable of single-handedly re-building our Country.

Though often missed in the political scuffles, this essential interdependence between government and people is a defining American truth. So resonate many earnestly chanted as much, just four years ago. Only the pre-election excitement didn’t transition well into gritty post-election efforts. Votes confirming a heartening ‘Yes,’ were the easy part. The harder ‘We Can’ implied cross-partisan collaboration, but that never happened. Stubborn gridlock in Washington, D.C. emanated into new waves of polarization cascading across the populous. Overwhelming it just as citizens were again catching their footing.

Which explains why, though our Country achieved a significant turn-around during Obama’s first term, it hasn’t crested at the hoped-for transformative heights. We forgot our “I’s” were needed in order to achieve our transcendent “We.”

Mitt Romney is a model for how this played out. Attempting to project himself as a standard-bearer for America’s pluralism, Romney managed to slice-and-dice his own identity. Constantly changing his public persona, while adapting different groups’ narrowest ideals.

Dangerously disjointed

Which presents a devastating possibility that voters must resolve. Nothing is more practically and psychologically dangerous than entrusting one’s most complicated ideals in another who hasn’t the self-possession to consistently articulate who he is, where he comes from and, why.

There may be a real Romney underneath what, when, where and to whom he says. But evidence is imperceptible, if not betrayed by his political strivings. Given Romney can’t settle on his own authentic ‘me,’ there’s little chance he’d successfully settle into our far more complicated and evolving national ‘we.’

By contrast, Obama’s steady understanding and illumination of America’s defining differences projects his consistent and congruent connection to the themes that, for good reason, got him elected in 2008—as they should again now. He knows himself, and he knows us. Well.

Yes We Can, redux

But we must remember a critical caveat. “Yes, We Can” will only work if we reengage with our fellow citizens. To achieve what our Founders intended, knowing, as does Obama, it’s the only way our Country can succeed. Regardless, our Country won’t move forward if we continue to undermine our success by denying our authentic, enriching nuances.

So: Why pathologically suppress our potentials? Our ability to express and be ourselves is the most consistent evidence we’re not far from what our Founders sought. Why be O.K. with unraveling the astounding breadth of our collective strengths? Why sit back while others quibble over superficial differences? Or worse, accept their quibbles as our own? Haven’t we noticed when we do, we’re digging into the darker corners of our souls? Where superficial judgments are so enmeshed with deep fears, there’s no way to discern what is and isn’t right.

Do we realize this is why distrust and despair is about all we Americans share anymore?

Think again.

It’s time we reflect again on who we really are. And, remind ourselves, that ‘Yes,’ indeed ‘We Can’ continue the momentum our Country has achieved this past four years.

Will we give ourselves, our Country, what we all need to succeed? (As Obama, all along, has known we can.)

If so, this time when we vote we must remember ‘the People’ doesn’t only mean ‘He, the President,’ it means ‘Me’, ‘I’, and ‘We’, too.

Andrea Morisette GrazziniFounder DynamicShift and CEO WetheP, an e-democracy start-up company. In her past civic engagement work she has influenced numerous local, national and international efforts, among them the White House Office for Social Innovations, the American Democracy Project, American Commonwealth Partnership and others.  Prior to that she co-founded PeopleNet Communications Corporation one of the early adapters of the Internet for communicating data to businesses. 

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