Last night President Barack Obama gave his last State of the Union speech to the nation. He covered some key challenges we already have faced together and others that still lie before us. He also devoted time, in his last chance to talk directly to the American public, to an issue rarely discussed by presidents -- fixing what is wrong with today's politics -- thereby ensuring the speech lived up to his promise that his last State of the Union speech would be different.
He spoke about the promise of America and the fact that through centuries of difficult, challenging change -- the depression, wars, the fight for civil rights -- "We made change work for us, always extending America's promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did-because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril-we emerged stronger and better than before." And he challenged us, as a nation, to "face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together' rather than 'respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people'.
The last quarter of his speech was devoted to one of the most pressing issues facing America - fixing our broken political system. He sounded a call to arms that 'We the People' must heed, if we want to ensure a strong America for our children and our children's children. The president made it clear that the "future we want-opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids-all that is within reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics".
The president stated powerfully and simply something that we all know: "democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens". He lamented that we find ourselves currently in a state of mistrust, malice and the inability to agree even on the basic facts. He noted that..."democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn't matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest". The president called for structural reforms in our political system including making voting easier and ending gerrymandering. He also discussed the importance of ending 'politics as usual' by changing the way campaigns are financed so that the influence of those with money is no more powerful than that of the average citizen.
President Obama called on all Americans to uphold our obligations as citizens. "To vote. To speak out...To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism" of the American people. Will we the people heed the president's call and actively engage or will we continue to sit back and accept the current state of incivility and political dysfunction?
Let's make 2016 the year the American people take back our democracy. Let's commit to participate, engage and demand change. Let's vote, go to public meetings, talk with our legislators, write to our members of congress, and attend town halls. Let's call out those who are bullying and ostracizing groups of people and trying their best to pit us against each other.
President Obama is right, and unless we do our part to challenge the current status quo nothing will change and the demagoguery will continue dominating our campaigns and distorting our government to serve the few instead of the many. The power invested in 'We the People' in our founding documents will not matter unless we use it.