What Does Obama Mean to You?

November 6, 2008

I haven’t been able to blog about dance because I’ve been so thrilled, overwhelmed, and overjoyed about our new president. At last, we have a man who is a real leader, who understands all sides of an issue, who has the vision to see past politics as usual. I started getting excited about Barack Obama when I read Dreams From My Father, his memoir of growing up and getting into community organizing. What I gleaned is that Obama is a searcher. He had to be. Growing up in a white family and realizing somewhere along the way that he was perceived as black, he had to look for his father and his African roots. He had to create a meaning for his life.

    And that is what artists do. We search for our own identity, our own aesthetics. We question why things are the way they are, and find a path through the thicket of life that we can walk on—or dance on. In doing so, we hope to contribute something to audiences, to other dancers, to the world. President-elect Obama, during his search as a young man, became a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of our country. I think that’s why people all over the world are rejoicing now. They know that he won’t automatically shut them out, the way most of our presidents do in their zeal to be an American patriot. He doesn’t just see black and white, he has compassion for all sides.

    Now I am reading Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope. At this writing, he is a lawyer and a U.S. senator. So it’s no surprise that he gives a whole chapter to the U.S. Constitution. But what surprises me is that he makes me feel a connection to it. I had this thought: He loves the Constitution as much as I love dance history. He is always discovering new things about it, new ways to understand it. He brings the Constitution alive, not only as a document, but as a discussion between several founders, each with different ideas, and as a framework that still holds for current behavior.  (Except, he points out, for the topics of slavery and racism, which were conversations not encouraged by the Constitution.)

    Part of my euphoria is not just who Obama is, and that I think he will be a great president, but the fact that the majority of Americans are now committed to the change he can bring. In so many areas—the economy, the environment, health care—he seems to have a plan that takes many different factors into account. But what about the arts? I know that he has formed an Arts Policy Committee, that he has championed arts in education, and that his daughters take ballet. But what can really happen during his reign? I want to hear from you. What are your hopes and dreams about what our new president can do to make the country a better environment for the arts? Please email me at [email protected] with your thoughts.