I write this article for the multitude of wild-eyed idealists who joined political campaigns thinking they could be a part of movement to deliver change only for their aspirations to be aborted by the established order. I especially write this missive on behalf of the legions of Obama volunteers who had their hopes dashed by the harsh realities of who the first black president became once he entered the White House.
This issue is very personal for me. In 2008, I put all my hopes in Barack Obama only to witness in depressing fashion as my faith was returned with faithless cynicism. However, I am not alone in this bitter taste that has yet to leave my mouth; an acerbity that dances across my palate each time I hear Obama lecture us about the brokenness of our government that he was complicit in wrecking for eight years.
As I’m writing this, I am mindful that there are countless thousands of Bernie supporters, Ron Paul loyalists and Howard Dean enthusiasts, to name a few, who also put all their chips in a politician only be hit with the snake eyes of the old guard. If there is one thing that is bipartisan in DC, it’s the way dreamers are used as stepping stools to advance the agendas of political insiders.
My foray into the world of political organizing traces its roots to 2004 when I heard Obama give the “red state vs blue state” speech at the Democratic National Convention. I was marooned knee-deep in doldrums at the thought of John Kerry being the nominee and realizing that the Democrats seized yet another opportunity to miss an opportunity. My gloomy mood was lifted instantly when a man I never heard of—with a name that should have been a political non-starter back then—walked up to the podium and lit the convention hall and millions of living rooms around America on fire with his elocution.
Like sirens luring unsuspecting sailors, Obama tapped into a deep desire that Americans had to get over the politics of division as he spoke from the mount of unity. Alas, as much as I swooned at his inspiring speech, the feeling of exuberance did not last too much longer as John Kerry got swift-boated and our hopes got torpedoed by Karl Rove. I swore off politics after that year; tired of Democrats fielding feckless candidates, I told myself that I was not going to bother anymore. I had just turned thirty, I did not want to waste my youth on a venal system that was the sole domain of “old white men”.
My swearing off did not last past the next election cycle; in 2008 I fell off the wagon and was pulled right back in by the same man who captured my imagination four years earlier. Initially I was hesitant, I did not want to commit to a “black” man knowing full well that the Democrats would find a way to pull the rug out from underneath him. However, as I observed his campaign—the more I listened to his speeches—I decided to stop being a passive observer and became an active “Obama foot soldiers”.
I initially started a group called “Omegas for Obama” where I tried to convince my fraternity brothers to get more involved in the attempt to leverage our connections to register African-Americans. The going was tough at first, not too many wanted to get involved knowing that Hillary was going to win Iowa and then eventually sow up the nomination. Then lightening struck! Though there was a media rush to crown Hillary, the good folks of Iowa had other ideas in mind—the coronation of Hillary came to a screeching halt. My enthusiasm rose from sky high to galactic, my urgency level shot through the roof as I imagined the idea of America mending her historical scars and electing the first “black” president.
With Hillary Clinton eking out a victory in New Hampshire, I knew what the next plan was going to be. Her campaign was going to “blacken” Obama and in the process dismiss his victory in South Carolina as one borne not out of the complexity of his ideas but kinship “black” voters in Palmetto State had to the complexion of his skin. It was with that knowledge in mind that I opened up my laptop one night, a day before the South Carolina primary, and wrote the following words:
“From the pastures of Iowa, the granite mountains of New Hampshire, the bright lights of Nevada, and the shores of South Carolina, people of all races, creeds, and gender voted not because of who I am but what I represent. When we reach out to out [sic] neighbors and hold hands on this common pursuit of the American dream, we realize that a black child in South Carolina is afflicted by poverty the same way a white child is burdened in Missouri or a Latino child is hindered in California. When we reach out and hold hands with our neighbors, we realize that a man does not prosper when a woman is held back by a glass ceiling nor is a blue state enriched when it comes at the expense of the red states.
We have for too long been held back by historical divisions and a politics that seeks to separate the hopes of one group against another. But when we reach out and hold hands in the pursuit of a common good, when we realize that hope is not a scare commodity but an abundant resource bestowed upon every citizen. For that is the very essence of our country, when we unite we are greater than when we divide. When the very fortunate amongst us holds hands with those who are the least of us, when we come together not as Democrats and Republicans but as fellow citizens bound by the same goals, after all, we are not a divided states of America, we are a United States of America.”
I forwarded these paragraphs via email to my fraternity brother in Chicago who was very close with the Obamas. He likewise forwarded it on and he got a response promptly; he told me that Valerie Jarret and Obama’s sister loved what I wrote and that they forwarded it on to the speech writing team. A day later, I was floored when he told me that my speech idea was actually incorporated into the South Carolina primary victory speech.
It was the most surreal experience hearing Obama give the speech. Though I felt a the pride of knowing my words were being beamed around the world, I did not tells others that I had a small part to do with that speech. I kept that information to myself, not only was I uber protective of the campaign, I also worked at a very conservative consulting company back then so I did not want my political leanings to become evident for fear of artful retribution by way of bad reviews or closed opportunities. Moreover, out of the two paragraphs I provided, only one sentence was included in the speech. I just figured that this would be a neat little story to tell my grandchildren one day.
That year, I drove myself into mental, physical and spiritual exhaustion as I pushed my body and mind to the brink trying to get Obama elected. I pivoted from Omegas for Obama to Ethiopians for Obama, behind the scenes I started working with Obama’s Virginia Constituency Director. In short order, I started to pull myself apart as I helped draft articles and outreach letters for Veterans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, Veterans for Obama and Muslims for Obama. By the time the elections came around, I was a shell of myself. I spiraled into full blown depression as the thought of disappointing the countless number of people who had come to depend on me looped continually in my mind.
Invited to Obama’s Inaugural Ball, I stayed home paralyzed by sorrows. I know there are many reading these who words feeling a sense of relief—a loosening of an anchor that has been weighing on the hearts of many for a dozen years. There is nothing as cathartic as realizing that you are not alone; shared grief always lightens the load of burdens that are carried alone. My story is not unique, it is the norm of countless millions who choose to believe in politicians every four years only to sit back and observe those same politicians head to DC and lock arms with the status quo. Our political system depends on sidelining jaded believers and co-opting enough true devotees to confer a veneer of legitimacy to the criminal enterprises that are the Republican and Democrat corporations.
My addiction to the narcotic that is politics did not get broken until homelessness broke me in 2015. Where I once enjoyed dabbling in the sociopolitical divides, two years of finding myself subtracted by poverty and my anxieties multiplied by lack of shelter and food gave me a horrible education as to the true sources of injustice in America and beyond. Where I once demonized “white” people and lectured them about their privileges, all the sudden I called “white” people—who were pillaged by a system that transfers from the many into the vaults of the few—my neighbors and fellow invisible sojourners.
One particular moment stands out that instantly changed my views; I saw a seven year old “white” girl named Sam breaking bread with countless broken souls in a homeless shelter. This sight so thoroughly broke my heart that I could not any longer, in good conscience, assign collective guilt and dismiss the suffering that “white” people go through as well. Our pains do not lose meaning because we have empathy for others who struggle too. To the contrary, when we connect our plight with the plight of others who struggle, we gain meaning as we heal collectively instead of trying to monopolize pains individually.
We have choices in life, we can look back with grievance or we can move forward with a new purpose. I could have written this article to incite your angers. I could have highlighted how Obama did not prosecute one Wall Street criminal who bled our economy while he told homeowners to go eat cake. I could have focused in depth on how Obama continued the foreign policies of Bush that he successfully ran against. But what purpose would that serve other than inducing agita in your spirits and me losing the few hairs that I have on my head?
I choose the authentic audacity of hope instead of focusing on the paucity of our politics. I choose to write this article not from a place of hopelessness but from a position of renewed faith and recommitted in my aim to be a part of a change that most of us desperately seek. In that light, this is a clarion call to all disaffected Obama, Bernie, Paul and yes Trump supporters to put aside our differences, to stop being manipulated to fight among each other and instead work towards our common good. It took two years of toil at the rock bottom of society for me to understand humanity’s connective tissue.
In a lot of ways, as evidenced by the speech idea I forwarded to the Obama campaign in 2008, that aching desire for solidarity that transcends our differences and the desperate hope for inclusive justice was always in me. Unfortunately, being tethered to politics detached me from this wisdom: whether you believe the big bang or a Big God, both creeds note that humanity came from one and multiplied outward. We truly are one. It took me losing everything for me to gain this understanding.
As for Obama, I am finally learning to let go of the anger I’ve harbored all this time. He is a politician, it was my naiveté that made me elevate a candidate into a prophet. This same lesson I pass on to others who are still stewing at the fate that befell their favorite politician, trust me you are losing sleep while they are dozing on eight hundred thread count sheets.
The change we need and want will never arrive from the top; if you were sitting down at a Black Jack table where everyone is losing while you are on a hot streak, would you ask for a new dealer? So then why expect billionaires who own both parties to give us a new deal?
Instead of casting our idealism before dogs and then crying once we get gnashed by Republican wolves or Democrat foxes, the wiser course would be to stop powering the very engine that is driving over humanity. Time is a zero sum game; every minute wasted on politicians is a minute that we could have used building up our communities. Upset about corporations shipping our jobs overseas and livid about billionaires making fortunes while the average America is one missed paycheck away from homelessness? Buy locally and empower our communities and we can actually do something that contributes to our viability instead of yelling incessantly into the night.
Life is a duality, for every bad , there is a good that emerges from its corners. As painful as my slide into depression in 2008 was and as excruciating as my skid into skid row was in 2015, I am grateful for all of it. It was because of that suffering that I shed tribalism from my eyes, I finally gained the purpose I’ve been searching for most of my life and I met my wife through all the turmoil.
It’s on this note that I forcefully advise you to stop listening to demagogues who try to incite you into anger and sell you the snake oil of “us versus them” politics, they are not helping you, they are disempowering you. The source of our power is not anger nor grievance, it is love and empathy. If I chose to remain angry and boiling in grievance when I was homeless, do you think I would be writing this article from the comforts of a home with a wife and a son who is the light of our lives?
Let me channel my inner Obama and close this with the following words: where we are broken, there is also hope, where we’re down, there is also a way up, you see my fellow Americans and Ethiopians, the path to restoration is not showered with petals but littered with thorns. But when we reach the promise land of justice and equality for all, the scars will have been worth it. Obama said, change starts block by city block; he had it wrong, change starts heart by individual heart. When we let go of anger and hatred and embrace inclusive justice, we can start healing our communities and our planet #TesfaLives Click To Tweet
Now I ask you, can we stop looking towards politicians and instead believe in ourselves? Yes. We. Can!
Post script: as I outlined in an article I wrote a couple of days ago titled “Matrix Revelations“, Facebook, Twitter and Google are engaged in a most breathtaking form of censorship. Independent journalists will tell you as much, these corporations have effectively weaponized their algorithm to selectively share articles and exclude stories that deviate from media narratives from popping up in people’s news feeds and timelines.
Add on top of this an industry that uses Orwellian tactics to disparage anyone who does not toe the line and what we have is yellow press journalism on steroids that has become normalized. However, truth is truth, I know one thing, they can’t say this is fake news, I have receipts of EVERYTHING.
As social media corporations trade our information for profits, they are denying our freedoms of expression and quashing free speech. For the time being, given both parties have zero interest in reigning in these behemoth corporations, our only choice is to revert to old fashion way, if you appreciate what you read here, share it verbally and use email. Corporations worth trillions cannot stop a united people who refuse to be silenced.
Let me end it with this, all the hardships I went through, all the tears I cried alone and the pains I carried in my heart, they were all worth it? Know why? Because those were battles I was fighting on behalf of my mother Sara Shewangizaw and billions of people who had their songs silenced. I am thus updating this article, for today I wrote an article titled “Sara’s Song: Love is the Revelation” published an hour ago. My mom had a dream before I was born, a preacher decoded her dreams and said that she would have a powerful son who would redeem Ethiopia. She told me that story and I made it about my ego, I finally realized today it was not me who is powerful, it was love that she passed on to me, the dreams of my mother Sara Shewangizaw is being sung from rooftops today. #SarasSong
*do you know why I keep using quote marks around the words “black” and “white”, it’s because these labels were created by racists in order to shatter humanity and have us fighting each other. This is why it is best not to follow politicians, they will NEVER discuss this topic I covered about race. Perhaps it is best to learn from one another instead of being educated by politicians.