One man can't fix a broken country

Behind the scenes, Obama has been part of a promising rebuilding project

By Angela Blackwell
Published January 20, 2010 7:16PM (EST)

A year into the Obama era, some progressives are feeling a mixture of sadness, resignation and disillusionment. Not me. 

Instead, I am energized and hopeful that the administration -- and millions of regular Americans far from the halls of power -- have laid a sturdy foundation for a strong, equitable, opportunity-rich America for the 21st century. 

To see where we're going, though, we have to remember where we were a year ago. On the day America inaugurated its first black president, this was the fourth paragraph of the New York Times lead story on the swearing-in, headlined "Obama Takes Oath, and Nation in Crisis Embraces the Moment": 

"But confronted by the worst economic situation in decades, two overseas wars and the continuing threat of Islamic terrorism, Mr. Obama sobered the celebration with a grim assessment of the state of the nation rocked by home foreclosures, shuttered businesses, lost jobs, costly health care, failing schools, energy dependence and the threat of climate change." 

A year ago, we were in a tragically difficult state. But since then, we have steadied our listing ship.

Through the hard work of politicians and advocates, we have strengthened our national safety net at a time when more Americans than ever need its help; we are on the verge of passing historic, if limited, reforms to our broken health insurance system; we have invested in innovative and promising local policies that lift up all Americans; we have created a policy environment where proven results -- not ideology or wishful thinking -- drive investments; and, as we have seen in New Orleans and Haiti, we have begun to regain our role as compassionate change-makers at home and across the globe.

But we cannot expect a few hundred people in D.C. to fix our country by themselves. While the movement for change reached its zenith when it swept Obama into office a year ago, you could first sense its power back in February of 2007, when more than 15,000 braved the bitter cold of Springfield, Ill., to watch Obama announce his candidacy. 

During that speech, Obama reflected on his decision to move to Chicago to take a low-paying job organizing communities on the South Side of Chicago. He said he was "motivated then by a single, simple, powerful idea -- that I might play a small part in building a better America." 

That is the most powerful lesson of Obama's presidency so far. We have seen clearly that he cannot force change through on his own. A better America is built one "small part" at a time. The first year of the Obama era has been bumpy, but promising. We must now take our own "small part" of this nation and make it more fair, more just, more true to our best ideals. Year 2 of the Obama Era is our year. 

 Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity.


Angela Blackwell

Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity

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