Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations! It must be wonderful to not only get to the end of this endless presidential campaign, but also to make history. Last night, watching you speak to the thousands in Grant Park in Chicago and to people across the United States, I was reminded of 1992, when I cast my first ballot. Bill Clinton won that night and my friend Cindy and I stayed up late to watch his first speech. I remember it was cold that night in Arkansas, I could see the gloves people were wearing as they clapped in Little Rock. But mostly I remember the sense of hope. I had grown up in a Democratic family in a strongly Republican state. It was my senior year of high school and everything was about to change. I was filled with the hope that in the dawning of the first Democrat as President I remembered, so would my post-high school life be so blessed.

Well, Clinton’s terms in office remain a marker in my political development. As those eight years passed and I started college and finished college and began to make my way in the work world, I learned that even when the presidential candidate of your choice wins (twice) it can be a profoundly disappointing experience.

But that was nothing compared to the last 8 years.

I’ve been sensing something in this country since 9/11. I think as a whole, we are dissatisfied hearing over and over again that all we can do is shop to prop up the economy. We know that there are big problems to deal with on so many fronts: health care, the national debt, the trade imbalance, homelessness, poverty and that god-awful war. In my mind, the American public can be symbolized as a spotty, flabby adolescent, holed up in his room playing video games. We are willing to set aside our dark room and video games and to stand up for our country, to work hard, to make a difference, but we have only been told, again and again, to consume.

After 9/11, we were ready to stand as a country and do what needed to be done. The message we got then was to hole up inside our homes and buy new things to decorate it. We did, but it was unsatisfying and seemed to only result in a fatter and poorer public. So, President-elect Obama, don’t be afraid to ask us to stand up for America. Don’t be afraid to ask us come out of our homes, to sacrifice, or do our duty, or have uncomfortable conversations. We’re more than ready for it. We often look back with awe at our parents and grandparents and all they overcame during the Great Depression and World War II. We have that same grit and I think we are ready to use it.

Don’t be afraid to call on us to help solve those problems. And don’t forget us.

Patricia Collins

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