A few weeks back, a big group of us went apple picking and pumpkin patching. Someone, in passing, joked that we should should carve pictures of Obama into our pumpkins instead of the traditional jack-o-lantern. I’m not sure anyone from our group did it, or carved our pumpkins at all (I didn’t even bring one home).

Today, I got a look at this. And I got a little misty-eyed.

So here’s the thing. As we get down to the wire in the presidential election, it looks more and more like the work we’ve done over the last few years (and many folks have done far more than me, clearly) might be rewarded. By proxy, the work we did four years ago on behalf of John Kerry — that’s being rewarded in this campaign as well. So this all is eight years in the making. A lot of money has gone into this. A lot of money. My friend Bill Bragin raised $40,000, largely through Facebook and a big old birthday party. I’ve never seen anything like that happen before for a presidential campaign. And it’s beautiful. We’ve rallied around a leader for once, instead of fighting against a candidate we couldn’t stand. We’ve been given symbols and slogans, a powerful and presidential face to stand behind, a common figure to inspire similarly-minded folks to unite.

And we’re carving pumpkins, an entirely local act, an entirely individual act that then spreads out to one’s community, only since there’s a common theme and a common bond and a common location to send all our pics and videos, we stand together in a visible way on a national and international scale. They’re pumpkins, yeah. And they’re marketing logos, for sure. And they’re centered around the cult of personality, the celebrity of Barack Obama, celebrating him the way fans of a hip-hop star or a famous actor might celebrate their own entertainment matinee idol. I get all that. I understand people’s concerns about so many people throwing so much of their faith behind one guy. I get that the big rallies, the catchy signs, the wholehearted devotion (often even blind devotion) to the eloquent speechifying, they all conjure up images of cults and political movements that don’t always lead to the best results. I get it.

But listen to what folks are saying during the pumpkin video:

“It’s going to be about living for every other American.”

“I don’t want a nation just for me. I want a nation for everybody.”

“We’re organizing ourselves. The campaign helps us, but we’re organizing ourselves.”

And that, my friends (to steal a phrase from Senator McCain) is what’s happening here, at least theoretically. That’s what we’ve got to be excited about. Personal responsibility, not just for one’s self and finances and health and safety, but for everyone around you. And that, to me, is the only way to go, even on the most selfish level. If you want to be safe, and healthy, and prosperous, you need the folks around you to be safe and healthy and prosperous. If you want to hold on to what you have, the best way to do that is to make sure that the folks around you have enough. That’s this “spreading the wealth” idea that seems so foreign and evil to so many conservatives (or at least to the McCain camp). So folks are carving pumpkins, and the pumpkins mean nothing — they’re just a symbol of reaching out to the folks around you. And I love that.

The concern, of course, is that folks will forget that the pumpkins (and the man on them) are just symbols of the cause, not the cause themselves. Go back to Tupac and the Notorious BIG. Both were genius MCS with major flaws (BIG had incredible flow, but nothing to say. Pac was just the opposite: lots to say, not a lot of art to how he said it.), and both became symbols of something greater, especially in death. Folks believed in what both those guys brought to the table, and wanted to emulate them. Problem was, it was really hard to rhyme like BIG. It was really hard to open yourself up like Pac. All that required work, and folks chose not to put that work in. Instead, they picked up the easier stuff to copy: BIG’s subject matter, Pac’s flow. They got the worst of both worlds. They celebrated the symbol, but lost sight of what actually made the symbol worth celebrating.

That’s my biggest fear in all this. If Obama gets elected, the work has just started.

“Hope and change” doesn’t mean that we’re hoping to change who lives in the White House. “Hope and change” doesn’t apply to the election — it applies to what the election theoretically will allow us to do. I’ll repeat: “will allow us to do.” Obama’s going to have to hold up his part, for sure. He’s making a lot of promises. He can’t possibly keep them all. We have to be aware of that. We have to be realistic in what can happen over four years, over eight years. We also have to demand that the man we rallied behind, the man we raised hundreds of millions of dollars for, stands up and leads and remembers what he’s led us to believe he stands for. We need to demand results. We need to hold him to an almost impossibly high standard. Yes, all those things are true.

But ultimately, we need to take what this campaign has given us, and we need to take it regardless of if he wins or not, and we need to hold ourselves to that almost impossibly high standard as well. “Hope” has been mocked in this election as a slogan, not a way to solve problems. And those mockers are right. Hope in and of itself is worthless. Hope will not take care of our problems. Carving the word into your pumpkin doesn’t make our country safer, our communities tighter, our art more truthful or more beautiful.

But.

Hope allows us, empowers us, impels us to get out there and do those things ourselves.

So carve your pumpkins. Paint your lawns. Hell, get a tattoo. Do whatever it takes to remind you of the mission and the message and the ultimate goals.

Just remember that this election is a step. A relatively small step at that. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

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