I got up on Nov. 4 just like it was any other day. I sat through class, studied, finished up some homework and researched a paper. Once I had completed all that, I walked down to a local school in Allston and filled out an election ballot.
The whole process took about 10 minutes out of my day. I went home feeling no different than when I had left to place my vote. Huddled before a television later, I watched history in the making as the first African-American won his place at the top of U.S. government. Kenmore Square, as well as other cities, college campuses and homes around the world, exploded. ‘Change’ had come to America. I shared in the initial enthusiasm, but after a few minutes, as all around me were celebrating with great zeal, I felt uncontrollably empty inside. What had changed? What in that one day made such a difference? The answer, plain and simple, was nothing. The world was still in turmoil, and, the next day, thousands more people died of AIDS, curable diseases and hunger. Our own political system remained as distant as it had the day before.
The reason for my lack of ‘hope’ came from the fact that the political system in this country was still being strangled by the same electoral system, and, now more than ever, no one seemed to care. The activist base of this country had thrown up their hands in celebration and walked home, somehow thinking that the world had changed because of a few million ink marks on paper. President Barack Obama is the gateway to the change we are seeking, not the change itself. Obama, just like every other politician in the federal government today, is subdued by the fact that he has to spend most of his time and effort bending over for the corporate interest groups that funded his campaign. Universal health care will never pass as long as health insurance companies hold so much sway in Washington. The Military Industrial Complex is alive and well thanks to campaign contributions. The banking system is being kept afloat in the midst of a financial crisis it helped cause, while the people drown in debt because the people didn’t give $35 million in the 2008 election cycle. The world is going down the drain, and there is nothing we can do about it, right?
Wrong. In Congress, as we speak, there is a bill known as the Fair Elections Now Act. This legislation would drive a spike through the ailments of this country. It is the closest thing to a political panacea that we can get. This legislation would allow politicians to run on public funding, costing less than $5 per person. This would remove the shackles from progressive, well-intentioned candidates and create the ‘change’ we are seeking but still don’t have. It would allow candidates to stand up and say what they mean, not what their financial backers want to hear. FENA would change ‘one dollar, one vote’ back into ‘one man or woman, one vote.’
I want to end this piece by saying that I do not hold any animosity towards Obama. I am not a naysayer, nor am I trying to belittle the historic events of Nov. 4. Obama represents the dawn of a new era in Washington, a Washington that will listen to us and respond accordingly. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should stop shouting. Samuel Adams once said, ‘It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.’ We may have Congress and a president who will listen to us, but the fire still needs to be set.