Elected Officials and Mitch Daniels and Discrimination and State Government and Diversity Groups and Federal Government and Opinion and Barack Obama and Minorities and Elections and Politics and Government & Economic Development and Government Reform and Government and Notions and Workplace Issues and Diversity

Change begins with everyone, not just Obama

November 10, 2008

In 1984 (the year, not the novel), I watched on TV as New York Gov. Mario Cuomo delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He rocked the house.

The next day, my colleagues and I talked about Cuomo. I said to my friend Dik, "That guy should be president."

Knowing well the stereotypes of Italian-Americans (insert "Godfather" movie here), Dik said, "It'll be a long time before this country elects a president with a vowel at the end of his name; not gonna happen."

Well, Dik, it happened, and with a name and heritage that few could have imagined.

In so doing, this nation laid down a racial burden borne since before its founding, and salved wounds carved deep by centuries of lashings.

I watched Wednesday night as Sen. John McCain noted this passage in his gracious concession speech, and shook my head in disappointment as his supporters tainted his honor and our nation's historic achievement with their catcalls.

A few moments later, the scene cut to Chicago's Grant Park, where President-elect Obama's supporters gathered en masse. Scene after scene showed African-Americans — from Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey to teenagers and elders — sobbing with joy.

As a white guy, I can comprehend, intellectually, what this feels like for the descendants of slavery. But having not personally known the hurt, I have only my fellow Americans' stories to drive home the emotional high of the healing.

At 2:13 a.m., I was still watching election returns when an e-mail arrived. It was sent to a list of local Obama supporters by a woman named Pauline. It says:

"Hello, New America.

"I am thinking about some things I have seen in my 72 years of living in Indianapolis, Ind.

"We grew up in a loving family household. I remember my maternal grandmother, walking down the alley behind our house, with a basket on her arm, with leftovers from her job. My father worked as a janitor at Allison, and my mother stayed at home to care for us.

"How it was in segregated days at Emmerich Manual Training High School, on South Meridian Street. I remember receiving an academic award not on stage, but behind the stage.

"After graduation, I started to work at Indiana Bell downtown in July 1953. Being a Negro (what we were called then), I was unable to sit down and eat at many places. I started in one of the first groups of Negro long-distance telephone operators. I retired from there in 1989 to take care of my mother, who had cancer.

"When Sen. Obama visited Indianapolis this morning, I felt this was a good omen for us and him.

"I am very hopeful that my mind-set, along with others, will be more open and helpful to make this country better than it is now."

There was much mocking of Barack and Michelle Obama when they spoke on the campaign trail of discovering new pride in their country through this year's election. One need only read Pauline's story to understand what they meant.

And whether we're thrilled or disappointed by the outcome of this election, all of us — Obama supporters, McCain supporters, Nader and Barr supporters, cynics, skeptics, even racists and boo birds — can benefit by Pauline's call for a new mind-set, a new openness and helpfulness that will "make this country better than it is now."

There's an adage in politics that "20 percent of the people are against everything all the time." Given the polarization evident in recent U.S. elections, it's probably more like half.

But given the odds stacked against us individually and collectively — an economic crisis, two wars, a loss of international respect and a litany of other challenges — don't we have a vested interest in seeing our new leader succeed? And if, for no other reason than self-interest, shouldn't we try out Pauline's new mind-set and do our share to help?

Four years ago, Indiana elected Gov. Mitch Daniels on a platform of change. He set expectations high and delivered — to such an extent that a major re-election concern was whether he'd changed too many things too quickly.

By overwhelmingly re-electing Daniels this week, Hoosiers have shown that dramatic change can, indeed, deliver benefits and gain widespread support.

Now, we have a president-elect who's also promised change. Expectations are so high that late-night comedians and political opponents have likened him to the Messiah. But it's not going to work that way. Because it's not about the guy with the vowel at the end of his name.

It's about us.

And what John McCain said about "reaching across the aisle."

And what Barack Obama said about "not red, not blue, but red, white and blue."

And what Pauline said about a new mind-set.

That's the change we need.

That's our only real hope.

To paraphrase our new president, "You are the change that you seek."

Are you ready to serve?

___
 
Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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