There have been several firsts lately. Here’s one. Last week in Napa I found myself in an elegant wine bar on a weekday morning, not winetasting but rather crying and hugging and cheering along with about 90 strangers, all of us watching the live broadcast of President Obama’s inauguration.
Mostly I cried. But I wasn’t embarrassed, since so many other people were crying. Even the manager shed tears. With no tissues available, my friend Beth grabbed a stack of cocktail napkins and set them within easy reach of us and five others. Given the occasion, it seemed natural for her to cheerfully assist strangers and friends alike.
The feeling in the room was electric as Obama pointed out to over a million attendees (and tens of millions of web streamers plus uncounted millions of television viewers) a number of resonating truths. Among these was the fact that we’re living on a warming planet, and for our survival we need to harness the sun and wind and earth for power.
Thank you, Mr. President. How uplifting to hear those words spoken after the Bush administration sneered at global warming along with human rights and ecological justice. For the past eight years in particular, oil interests have held us hostage. Oil contributes to less than 5 percent of our energy, but Cheney and Bush, whose families profited, made oil-market wars a national priority, sending ill-equipped soldiers into combat while cutting benefits to their families. Morale plummeted.
Soil and water quality sank, too. Under Bush-Cheney leadership, the Environmental Protection Agency was functionally dismantled, along with the EPA research library that provided documentation essential to controlling the sale and use of over 800,000 potentially dangerous pesticides. What did this accomplish besides the business-as-usual profit making and interspecies poisoning? Underhanded and underreported, it spread the toxin of discouragement, a condition that makes people feel hopeless, disconnected and powerless. This condition has been more threatening to the planet than pollution.
So far in the global crises, the obstacle preventing our country’s withdrawal from fossil fuels has not been a lack of technology but a lack of organized will. The power source within the human spirit has not been fully tapped—yet. But it just might happen after all.
When Obama acknowledged global warming and endorsed renewable energy in his first presidential speech, cheers broke out all over the room and I cheered the loudest. Another first! But underneath it was the most significant first, the key to our sustainable future.
The foundation of Obama’s campaign strategy, where social networking met grassroots organizing, was a reconstruction of our collective hope. It produced a rebirth of community involvement. Encouraged people feel connected to one another, empowered. And empowered people make changes. Our new president made it clear that this isn’t going to be a picnic, that there are difficult days and “hard choices” ahead of us. But he reminded us that we will move forward with hope and unity. We’ll function as a true democracy now.
It sure felt that way to me, looking around the crowded wine bar during the inauguration broadcast and seeing the happy, proud faces. It felt the same watching video clips of other happy, proud faces gathered in other cities to watch change come to the White House. We got Obama there. We overcame two major obstacles—discouragement and big money—and we did it together.
So together we celebrated. I remember feeling close to everyone that morning, experiencing a heightened sense of purpose and optimism. Those few who could sip wine or Champagne that early in the day raised their glasses while others raised coffee mugs. And near the end, almost everyone stood and raised their voices to sing along with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It has been harder to sing that song in recent years. But now it seems right. Beth improvised a terrific harmony and we sang at the top of our lungs.
I went home elated, wondering how long it would take us to make the behavioral changes required to become a sustainable “land of the free and home of the brave.” I don’t know the answer, but I’m feeling very hopeful.