Obama’s ‘change’ message substantive

The people do have the power to make real change happen, and not just depend on elected officials for change.

by Chelsey Perkins

Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama spoke about hope and change to nearly 20,000 people Saturday afternoon at the Target Center, myself among them.

I have been skeptical of “change” as the buzzword of this election cycle; how many different times have we heard that things will be better this time around? When you hear a word or phrase repeatedly that seems to have no substance behind the rhetoric, it begins to lose meaning and eyes gloss over.

When Obama speaks about change, however, he does so in a way that not only gives meaning to the word, but gives life to so many possibilities. On more than one occasion Saturday, Obama spoke of change from a bottom-up perspective rather than a top-down perspective. Literally speaking, “bottom-up” refers to organizing those who are most affected by a particular issue – those on the “bottom” – to work for policy change at the top.

The culture of convenience in which U.S. society dwells has not only led to a disinterested and disaffected populace, but has also upheld a systematic discouragement from getting involved in real social change. We are kept complacent through the plethora of entertainment options we have and the commandeering of our time with less threatening ventures.

But when Obama asked the crowd how ready we were to work for change, he turned the notion that our duties as citizens end at the ballot box on its head. Rather than telling us to go shopping while the top dogs of the government take care of business, he invited us – all of us – to exercise our people power and become a part of the change we wish to see in 2008.

One of the most appealing aspects of Obama’s speech to those of us from the University community was his discussion of what he calls the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $4,000 tuition credit for students. Before you consider it money in the bank, however, keep in mind that Obama wants students to earn the credit through some kind of community work, such as the Peace Corps. “We will invest in you,” he said. “And you will invest in America.”

I think this is a great idea; not only does it provide monetary incentive (which for some may be one of the few motivating factors), but I know it will expose people to ideas, cultures and communities they may have never known otherwise.

After the rally, while riding the bus back to campus, I overheard a young man and woman discussing what they had heard that afternoon. When the woman asked the man if he was ready to work for change, he replied, “It’s on him, not on me.”

Well, I’m here to say now what I should have said then: The responsibility for making change happen and the ability to do so on our block, in our schools and communities and across the nation has never lain anywhere else but in our own hands. Change is not only possible as we look forward to a new era of U.S. politics, it is absolutely necessary. Take the first step toward that goal today and attend the caucuses.

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]