An Open Letter To President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I wanted to write you before you left the Oval Office and its taken me until the eleventh hour to do so, in all honesty, because I’m in denial that you’re leaving. I’d like to ask that you please not leave us, however I agree that Michelle does deserve quite the fabulous vacation and as a constitutional law scholar, you’d probably harbor some strong objections to violating the law of the land, so I won’t ask that of you.

I do want to take the time to sincerely thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for restoring grace, dignity, decency, rationality, and humanity to not just the Office of the President, but to our country as well and to our country’s reputation around the world. Your words have inspired us and at every step of the way, you and your beautiful family have led by example and with integrity. We are grateful for you.

Now, this letter isn’t going to solely consist of praise, because as a progressive liberal, there were times that you disappointed me. Times when those campaign rallying cries of “hope and change” seemed inconsistent with policy action, or, rather inaction. I had higher hopes for immigration reform. I wanted to see Guantanamo Bay permanently closed within that first year of your presidency. I’m still hoping that pardons might come for both Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. But, as someone who lived and worked in DC for nearly a decade, I understand that there are some very real constraints to action and limits to the power of the president, particularly when faced with an obstructionist Congress.

That said, what you did accomplish, given those constraints, is nothing short of remarkable – health care coverage for millions who had none; the right to marry for all (love wins!); saving our economy from the brink of disaster; the thawing of relations with Cuba; your support of clean energy, climate agreements, and the environment; the naming of new national monuments and protected federal lands; your unwavering support of Planned Parenthood and women’s rights, exhibited in so many different ways, from championing pay equity to your appointments of Supreme Court justices to the way in which you’ve been a role model as a husband and father. You’ve made me exceedingly proud as a woman, as a Democrat, and as an American.

It’s hard to choose which of your accomplishments is most inspiring to me because you’ve been an advocate of so many causes dear to my heart. However, above all, I want to thank you for the sentences you’ve commuted for non-violent drug offenders, the second chances you’ve given to people whose lives were all but ruined by draconian laws and an uncaring or, perhaps uninformed, public. I lost my little brother, Al, my only sibling, to a heroin overdose in 2014 after 17 years of helplessly watching him struggle and suffer. Two weeks before his 33rd birthday. He wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t a violent person. He was exceptionally intelligent, articulate, funny, and caring. Our family had hopes and dreams for him that were taken from us because of drug abuse and the resulting legal consequence he faced for his illness. Thank you for showing compassion to those whom so many seem to dismiss and judge with ease. You’re leaving our country exponentially better than how you found it and that is no small feat.

I dedicated myself to getting you elected in 2008. And, for the record, I’m not a career campaigner: I just happened to deeply believe in you and your message. I was a steering committee member of a group called Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama. We held policy-related events, fund raised, and most importantly, organized groups to knock on doors in northern Virginia. In fact, one of my most poignant memories from Election Night 2008 was watching as CNN called Virginia, and immediately following, the election for you. I burst into tears and we streamed out onto 14th and U Street, hugging and dancing with strangers in celebration. I’ve never experienced such overflowing goodwill in one location in my entire life. I worked on your Presidential Transition Team. My husband, Dave, and I attended your 2008 inaugural ball ― the Biden Home States Ball, to be exact. We watched proudly as you and Michelle danced to Etta James and were filled with unabashed joy. Our hope for the next four to eight years was immeasurable at that precise moment. Off the charts. Anything was possible because you were at the helm of the ship.

In stark contrast to our feelings that night is where we find ourselves today, staring down the brutal reality of a Trump presidency. Saying goodbye to you was going to be difficult regardless but this. I’m at a loss for words to describe how I feel. I guess I’ll just leave it at “crushed” – but far from defeated. Perhaps the most important aspect of your legacy is not something that can be analyzed and quantified by the typical metrics and polls. You planted a seed in young people, you inspired and motivated people like me to become more politically engaged and the fruits of your efforts will blossom long after you’ve left the White House. There are millions of us out there who are still fired up and ready to go and I am one of those people. I believe in civil liberties and human rights and, at the end of the day, I believe that the goodness of our country will prevail. It’s going to be a rocky few years but rest assured, Mr. President, we will be volunteering with and donating to organizations such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, we’ll be working on our local campaigns, and we will be marching in the streets. As you reminded us, “Yes We Can. Yes We Did. Yes We Can.” I look forward to marching alongside you.

With sincere gratitude,

Becky Harris Sullivan