Monday, August 25, 2008

The Alchemy of Hope

Maybe it was the altitude here in Denver going to my head. Hearing Michelle Obama speak tonight, I wanted to believe that the man who watched his newborn daughter in the rearview mirror with such love and concern on their first trip home would feel enough compassion for children living amidst poverty and violence around the world to fundamentally change our country's place in the world.

Something in me, something in us, wants to believe in Obama as some magical alembic who can transmute our country, separating its higher nature from the dross of racism, militarism, and extreme poverty in the shadow of great wealth.

My rational mind knows that its not true. I've read the fine print of Obama's plan to keep "non-combat" troops in Iraq. I watched as he slipped out of town this June rather than having the courage to vote against funding the war well into 2009.

Alchemy teaches that the alembic is not the source of magic, but rather the site of transformation. The magic exists in the change itself, performed on both physical and spiritual levels, that transforms not just the substance on which the work is being performed but the alchemist as well.

And history teaches, in the words of Frederick Douglass, that "power concedes nothing without struggle." Great change is achieved not by great leaders but by the rise of social movements powerful enough to force whoever is in power to concede to their demands.

That understanding puts the responsibility for change back on our shoulders. But in accepting that responsibility we also take back the power we've given over to the "leaders" we have wanted to rescue us. The moment when we take back that power is the moment when real magic begins.

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