“Yes, we can.”
Really? Can Barack Obama’s winsome and winning phrase become a rallying cry, a call to arms, if not armaments? Will the coming eight years be hailed as the “Yes, we can” era, just as the last eight were the “9-11” era?
“Yes, we can.” – I sense that this could have been Sully Sullenberger’s mantra as he maneuvered his precious cargo through Hell to Hope before finding sanctuary and safety on the Hudson. He entered the cockpit as captain on January 15, a few days before the Inauguration; he exited the plane as champion of the nation’s spirit. Yes, we can – and he did.
The man sitting next to me on the flight from Maryland to California raises butterflies and grows Christmas trees back in Massachusetts. He is heading west to visit his wife, who is currently working in California. As he shares stories of his life, the symbolism of connection (visiting his wife), transformation (the emergence of butterflies from caterpillars) and celebration (Christmas trees) enchants me. Can we do the same for our country? Can we reclaim the vision of the Pilgrims whose yearning for connection, transformation, and celebration with God and each other gave them the courage to embark on a dangerous journey to new life in America?
They could. Can we?
I am reminded of Lyndon Johnson, who met with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early days of his Presidency. As they discussed the challenges of drafting new civil rights legislation and the about-face from hate and fear to hope and opportunity, Johnson bluntly told King that the good Reverend mustn’t let up. Much as he might want to draft and sign a Civil Rights Bill that would change the country forever, Johnson told King that it was not possible. “Keep the pressure on,” he implored. I cannot do my part unless you do yours – so organize your people and keep the protests coming.” Being the right person in the right place and the right time isn’t enough to bring about major change, even if that person is the President of the United States.
So King and his cohorts did exactly that. The demonstrators marched, the ministers preached, the people walked and talked and wailed and sang. And the good protestors gave power to the President who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law, changing our country as we knew it, beginning a change that made the last election possible.
It’s a lesson we need to remember, for Obama is not saying, “Yes I can,” but “Yes we can.” As we have seen in the first two weeks of Obama’s presidency, the forces of hate and entitlement are real. Johnson and Jesus couldn’t fight them alone, Obama can’t either. We need to keep the pressure on.
Pondering the connection between Captain Sullenberger and President Obama, I realized that heroes are made when hope is birthed. Hope is the seed that finds its fruit in connection, transformation, and celebration. And thus the rallying cry of “Yes we can” demands that each of us becomes a midwife to the hope that lies inside, yearning to see the light of day.
To which the people shout, “Yes, we can!” And we keep the pressure on.