The one word, above all others, by which the Obama campaign is known.
Hope in hard times.
Hope over fear.
This is my last diary before election day. It is a diary about the importance of hope.
Studs Terkel, who documented American lives like no other journalist for decades, wrote a book entitled Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Troubled Times. In an interview with Rey Suarez five years ago, he explained why:
These people are those to whom I pay tribute, activists they're called. And they've done stuff over and beyond their call of duty, which is something to be born, to live, to die. They're more than that. They want to have a meaning in the world. And as a result of their hope, the rest of us are imbued with a little hope. And they're a prophetic minority. See, the people I've talked about are those who have been a minority, and you've been egged and tomatoed and beaten up, and later on that which they have worked for have come to pass.
Studs Terkel wrote Hope Dies Last in 2003. We remember 2003. Two years after three thousand Americans died in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The year George W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq, after getting the Patriot Act passed and scaring Americans that a mushroom cloud might rise above an American city. And for his efforts at scaring Americans to bomb innocent people and give up our civil rights, George W. Bush would win another four years in the White House the following year.
Hard times. Times of despair. And in those times, Studs Terkel wrote Hope Dies Last. Studs lived through some hard times in the twentieth century. Depression. War. Blacklists. Riots. More war. Yet he understood the power of hope.
Barack Obama understands the power of hope as well. He has talked about it throughout this campaign. Perhaps never more eloquently than on the night of February 12, when, speaking in Madison, Wisconsin on the heels of victories in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maine, Louisiana, and Nebraska, he asserted control over the Democratic nomination.
My own story tells me that in the United States of America there's never been anything false about hope, at least not if you're willing to work for it, not if you're willing to struggle for it, not if you're willing to fight for it.
I should not be here today. I should not be here today. I was not born into money or status. I was born to a teenage mom in Hawaii. My father left us when I was 2.
But my family gave me love, they gave me an education, and, most of all, they gave me hope, hope that, in America, no dream is beyond our grasp, if we reach for it and fight for it and work for it.
Understand this: Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is not ignorance of the barriers and the challenges that stand between you and your dreams. I know how hard it will be to change America.
I know it won't be easy to provide health care for all Americans like I've proposed. If it was easy, it would have already been done.
I know that it won't be easy to change our energy policy. ExxonMobil made $11 billion last quarter. They don't want to give those profits up easily.
I know how hard it will be to alleviate poverty that's built up over centuries. I know how hard it will be to improve our schools, especially because improving our schools will involve more than just money.
It will require a change in mindset, a belief that every child counts, that it's not somebody else's problem, a belief that parents have to parent, and turn off the TV set, and put away the video game, and that our students have to raise their standards of excellence.
That's not easy to do, changing attitudes, changing culture. I know it's hard, because I've fought those fights. I fought on the streets of Chicago as a community organizer to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant.
I fought in the courts as a civil rights lawyer to make sure people weren't denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from.
I fought in the legislature to take away power from lobbyists, and to provide health care to those who didn't have it, and to fix a criminal justice system that was broken. And I've won some of those fights, but I've lost some of them, too, because I've seen good legislation die when good intentions weren't enough, when they weren't backed by a mandate for change, when the American people weren't enlisted in the process of change.
I know how hard these things are. The politics of hope does not mean hoping things come easy.
But I also understand that nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody somewhere is willing to hope, when somebody is willing to stand up, somebody who's willing to stand up when they're told, "No, you can't," and instead they say, "Yes, we can."
That's how this country was founded, a group of patriots declaring independence against the mighty British empire. Nobody gave them a chance, but they said, "Yes, we can."
That's how slaves and abolitionists resisted that wicked system and how a new president chartered a course to ensure we would not remain half-slave and half-free.
That's how the greatest generation -- that's how the greatest generation, my grandfather fighting in Patton's army, my grandmother staying at home with a baby and still working on a bomber assembly line, how that greatest generation overcame Hitler and fascism and also lifted themselves up out of a Great Depression.
That's how pioneers went west when people told them it was dangerous. They said, "Yes, we can."
That's how immigrants traveled from distant shores when people said their fates would be uncertain. Yes, we can.
That's how women won the right to vote, how workers won the right to organize, how young people like you traveled down South to march, and sit-in, and go to jail, and some were beaten, and some died for freedom's cause. That's what hope is.
That's what hope is. That's what hope is, Madison, that moment when we shed our fears and our doubts, when we don't settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept, because cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom.
When we instead join arm in arm and decide we are going to remake this country, block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county, state by state, that's what hope is.
There's a moment in the life of every generation when that spirit has to come through, if we are to make our mark on history, and this is our moment. This is our time.
That time is now. We have until Tuesday evening to make sure we have knocked on every door, called every number, driven every voter, and protected every vote to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.
It will not be easy. The entrenched powers that have caused so much pain over the last several years are telling every lie they can and purging every voter they can get away with in order to keep hope from triumphing next Tuesday. We have a few dozen hours of work to uphold the visions of hope that Barack Obama articulated nine months ago.
I will leave this diary with one more Barack Obama quote. And then I will be quiet for most of the next four days, making the push to win Indiana. This quote is one readers of my diaries have read more than once this week, because it contains what matters in the days immediately ahead of us. Here it is again:
"Don’t believe for a second this election is over. Don’t think for a minute that power concedes. We have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does."
In one week, we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates new jobs and fuels prosperity from the bottom-up.
In one week, we can choose to invest in health care for our families, and education for our kids, and renewable energy for our future.
In one week, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo.
In one week, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history.
That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if in this last week, you will knock on some doors for me, and make some calls for me, and talk to your neighbors, and convince your friends; if you will stand with me, and fight with me, and give me your vote, then I promise you this – we will not just win Ohio, we will not just win this general election, but together, we will change this country and we will change the world.
God bless you.
God bless the United States of America.
Let's get to work.
The body of Studs Terkel may have stopped breathing, but the heart hasn't stopped beating. Hope dies last, and it's got life left.
Let's get to work.