The Alumni StoryBarack Obama in Concord, New Hampshire, November 4th, 2012
Yes we can.
We came from everywhere, spending two years of our lives in states we barely knew, to test Barack Obama’s proposition that Americans are more alike than we are different – that for all our outward differences, we share the same values and pledge allegiance to the same flag.
“They said this day would never come.”
After an improbable victory in Iowa, our campaign went on to New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina – ultimately through all fifty states, building a coast-to-coast movement for change. Some of us lived out of worn-out suitcases for months at a time. Some of us fell in love. All of us made lifelong friends.
After one of the hardest-fought campaigns in memory, we secured the Democratic Nomination. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won a resounding victory, in the process changing the electoral map and validating what he said four years earlier about so-called red states and blue states. And a new First Family took the stage on an electric night in Chicago’s Grant Park, where the President-Elect addressed “the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics,” a crowd 250,000 strong, and billions of people around the world.
When we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can. Barack Obama, January 8, 2008
“It’s been a long time coming,” he began,” but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” But he also made it clear that the celebration would be brief – because we had more work to do. “What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change…It cannot happen without you.”
A New Foundation
President Obama took office at a moment of challenge and change unlike any the country had seen in decades. A nation at war. A planet in peril. An economy in freefall, threatening the American Dream itself.
Candidate Obama promised to lead on climate change, and double clean energy like wind and solar in four years. We did it in three. Candidate Obama promised to sign health reform into law before the end of his first term. We did it by the beginning of his second year, ultimately covering another 20 million Americans. We reformed Wall Street, reduced the deficit, and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” because who you love shouldn’t determine whether or not you can defend the country you love. And we appointed two extraordinary women to the Supreme Court.
By the end of the first term, an economy that had been bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs each month was creating hundreds of thousands of jobs each month. The auto industry was booming, helping American manufacturing grow for the first time since the 1990s. For the first time in nine years, there were no Americans fighting in Iraq. And Osama bin Laden was no longer a threat to America.
As Vice President Biden put it: GM was alive, and bin Laden was dead. And then it was time to campaign again.
Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met. Barack Obama, January 20, 2009
The re-election campaign would test that question a younger man posed to us eight years before: do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or a politics of hope?
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard, frustrating, but ultimately necessary work of self-government. Barack Obama, July 27, 2016
For four years, even during the worst economic crisis in generations, Republicans tried to block America’s progress at every turn. Vote after vote to block President Obama’s steps to right the economy, create jobs, and put more money in workers’ pockets. Vote after vote to repeal Obamacare and take away families’ health insurance. Their cynical argument was that President Obama was to blame for the economy – even as they wanted to go back to the same policies that wrecked the economy in the first place. Their platform was simple: we’re better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
And yet, the Americans we met while organizing and campaigning across the country were showing us otherwise. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of so many, things were slowly, steadily beginning to improve. Jobs were growing. Plants and factories were re-opening. New energy was beginning to power our future. More Americans had health insurance. More troops were coming home.
At that make-or-break moment for the middle class, America decided that we are greater together than we are on our own; that this country succeeds when everybody gets a fair shot, everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules. That we all have a stake in each other’s success. Those aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And on Election Day, in another definitive victory, we reclaimed them once again.
The Single Most Powerful Word in our Democracy
Over eight years, we saw an America on the edge of depression battle back, with incomes rising again, poverty falling again, and businesses turning job losses into more than 15 million new jobs.
We saw an America that let too many of our people go uninsured change course, protect 20 million more, and cover more than 90 percent of our citizens for the first time in history.
We saw an America that had been hopelessly hooked on foreign oil kick that addiction, spark a clean energy revolution, and become the world leader in the fight to protect our planet.
We saw an America reaching for opportunity and justice for all, no matter who we are, what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.
The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one; it belongs to everyone; oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Barack Obama, March 7, 2015
And what began ten years earlier in the frozen fields of Iowa ended in a packed Chicago hall: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history; if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11; if I had told you that we would win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. That’s what you did.”
“You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”
Let’s Change the World
Obama Alumni are doing incredible work around the globe carrying the values of the Obama Administration with us. The Obama Alumni Association will highlight the many inspiring new organizations, public service pursuits, campaigns, companies, and issues that Alumni and Progressive Allies are involved in or are starting on their own. We will also help connect Alumni at local levels so you can plan to take action in your own communities and mobilize Alums across the country. As our old boss said, “Together, we can change the world.”
I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours. Barack Obama, January 10, 2017