A few days ago, President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress for his last foreseeable time. In his seventh and final State of the Union address, POTUS employed an unconventional approach while talking with the American people. Instead of laying out a list of bills and initiatives he will champion his last year in office (although he did present a few from gun control to climate change to affordable education), the President reminisced on the successes of his presidency and the challenges that America faces not within the next year or five but those of our future, our democracy, our survival. While national security and our economy as well as other domestic issues aligned with the President’s agenda, the most poignant, most critical message of the speech revolved around America’s very core: our democracy. President Obama asked the nation four imperative questions throughout the night and in his words the most important was his last: “How can we make our politics reflect what is the best in us and not what is the worst?”.
The recent surge of xenophobic voices within our political system, media, and society have not gone unnoticed, even by students who cannot yet vote. President Obama resounding began, “We need to reject any politics that target people based on their race or religion,” to the standing ovation of the audience and to the agreement of the Republican response. The President continued to discuss the flaws within our current political system, one that does not always represent the ideals of this great nation: “Public life withers when only the most extreme voices receive attention… when we listen to only those voices who agree with us. It doesn’t work when we think all the people that disagree with us are motivated by malice, …are unpatriotic.” Jokingly, the President revealed to the American public the worst kept secret in Washington- politicians want to compromise. “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality”; it may be hard to fathom but these words by Dr. King ring true in our government.
The essence of President Obama’s message was indebted to these famous words. In a government continually distrusted by its people, the President voiced the exasperation of the nation- our political system feels rigged. People believe they do not have a voice; “we must reduce the influence of money in our politics.” The President demanded, that a country founded on democracy, must strive to make it easier to vote not harder- to modernize our systems. Our duty as the people of this nation is “to vote, to speak out, to stand up for others” because, in order to secure those rights, those before us did the same. It is our duty to continue this tradition, so our children, our neighbors, our new citizens nurturing our nation’s diversity can wield this country of and by and for the people.
“We are Americans first!” President Obama took a moment to remind the American people and all those who represent us that when the world faces a challenge they do not call Beijing or Moscow- they call the United States of America. Regardless of race, religion, political party, we are united. From the Iran nuclear deal to COP21, the war in Syria to reopening relations with Cuba, and the Pacific Trade Agreement to the battle against Ebola, the United States seeks not to indoctrinate the world with its politics but lead with a global attitude of compassion, of the importance of the people of this world. The people of this nation- they are what make this nation great- their voices matter. America doesn’t need to be made great again. Those voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love, they are out there and yet they do not seek fame or attention- they remain invisible and fundamental. The President ended his speech with fever: “I believe in change because I believe in you the American people! That is why I stand here, as confident as I have ever been, that the state of this union is strong!”
And so with the mantra that Barack Obama will always be remembered for, Mr. Hope and Mr. Change stepped down from his podium for the final time. He rests assured in the American people, in a political system that will evolve in order to allow for equality and the voices of all the people to once again hold ultimate power. I myself have joined the President’s call and registered to vote to utilize my precious right. I believe our politics should represent the best of our nation and not its worst. I believe in constructive public debate, dissent, and compromise. I believe in unconditional love for all the peoples of this nation and this world no matter the differences we share. I believe that unarmed truth will prevail. While none of us may have walked with Dr. King down the streets of this embattled nation, we must carry his message when we walk down the streets of our neighborhoods and communities. We must not succumb to helplessness, to fear, to rhetoric we must instead champion love, truth, and unity. It is time the American people take back the wheel of this country not by voting for a different political party, against the establishment, or for new candidates but by demanding this nation not whither under stagnation, not whither under messages of hate, not whither under special interest’s money. Instead, this nation must stand up to preserve the rights of all its citizens and all its fellow humans, moderate politics to focus on the compromise best suited to improve our nation, and we, as a people, regardless of political beliefs, must stand up for hope- we must believe in change. “Clear eyed, big hearted, undaunted by challenge, optimistic that unarmed true and unconditional love will have the final word”- these are the American people I love and “that’s what makes me so hopeful about our future!”