The current President of the United States of America built his platform on two very basic ideas: “Hope” and “Change.” And people bought it. People attended his rallies, people bought his t-shirts, and people voted him into office, twice. But let’s maybe think a little bit about what these two ideas really mean.
(Oh and I guess I should also point out that this thing isn’t going to be just one long criticism of Obama, there is more than enough of that stuff out there already, plus I don’t even really know the guy.)
“Hope” generally connotes a sense of optimism associated with a perceived positive outcome in the future, like, “I hope the Coachella line-up is good next year,” or “I hope the weather is okay tomorrow.” One thing I would encourage you to note about the concept of Hope, though, is that it is suspiciously void of agency. When I am hoping for good weather, I am essentially waiting to have my hopes either confirmed or denied. When I’m hoping for something, I am inherently distancing myself from participation in the outcome. This lack of agency makes sense when we’re talking about things that are essentially outside of our control, but it makes considerably less sense as a platform for a democracy, which is ostensibly built on the idea that people really ought to participate as much as possible.
Which and that is maybe my point about Hope. Hope is passive, and passivity does not produce results. Passivity allows the status quo to remain the same. More crucially, unfulfilled hopes tend to kind of decay into cynicism, which is basically passivity plus the expectation of disappointment. A good example of this kind of thing is the general response amongst twenty-somethings after the midterm elections. People seemed disappointed but not really that surprised. This is incredibly bleak, and also basically the ideal situation for the corporate interest groups that own the republican party, who now realize that their main ideological opponents (i.e. people who are neither grotesquely wealthy nor over the age of like 65) are now so bogged down in defeated cynicism that they can just go ahead and do (pretty much literally) whatever they want.
“Change” is something very different. Change, like Real Capital “C” Change, is something that almost never comes out of an institutionalized governing system. It might be enacted through a governing system, but it has to start with the people the governing system represents. Historically this is true: even just recently, Occupy Wall Street brought terms like “The One Percent” into currency and really did refuel the discussion about wealth inequality. The same can be said of the Ferguson Protests, which are forcing us to really talk about race issues in America. These are important and nontrivial examples of Change which demonstrate the power of organized groups of individuals to play a role in actual democracy.
If you want to change something, you have to participate in it. You have to gather as much information as you can, make sense of it, and tell people about it. You have to organize. You have to make yourself heard. Which is I guess my point: Change isn’t something you hope for, it’s something you do.