Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yes they can, but can we?



Last night I stayed up as late as I could, waiting for early exit polls. I fell asleep to the sound of political pundits theorizing and making predictions…. I woke up to the news of Obama’s victory and I felt relief, hope, and when I heard Obama’s victory speech, I felt inspired:

I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

Fifty years ago, Americans began the fight for civil rights; the women’s movement began to gain momentum; early gay rights pioneers began to take action. In the decades that followed, society changed for the better. And today, we have a government, a president who respects and includes all people. Obama unifies. Obama inspires.

Today, here in Athens, we are still collapsing. Parliament has been in session all day. Tonight a key austerity vote is to take place. The measures must be passed before Greece can receive the next tranche of bailout money from the troika (EU, IMF, ECB). Lawmakers have been fiercely debating all day; strikes have affected the city and the nation all week – from air traffic controllers to garbage collection to public transport and banks… At one point tonight, outside of the parliament building protestors hurled Molotov cocktails while riot police sprayed a giant fire hose to keep people back; while inside the parliament building another kind of circus was taking place – lawmakers shouted at each other, stood up gesturing in disgust, walked in and out of the chamber, the sessions stopped, the sessions resumed... Proposals were made, proposals were retracted…

Here in Greece, we seem to have lost our way. We don’t know what we are fighting for anymore. Today I watched Obama speak words of real hope, words that aim to unite. And then I watched the debate in the Greek Parliament – extreme-right Golden Dawn MPs spoke. Socialists spoke. Pro-European MPs spoke. Communist MPs spoke. Anti-austerity supporters spoke. They spoke words that only inspire division and hopelessness.

Tonight, as I type this, I watch the parliament members voting… ναι; όχι; The protesters outside have gone home. And so I am up late again, waiting for the results of another vote. However, whatever the outcome of this vote will be, it will not inspire hope and change. The coming years in Greece will be filled with hardship, suffering, disparity, disunion. And I wonder if in my lifetime I will ever witness a Greek political leader express sentiments which echo Obama’s message of inclusion, acceptance, cooperation, promise and inspiration.