Six months ago, one of the largest Democratic electoral majorities in the last fifty years delivered the presidency to Barack Obama. His agenda for responsible governance, domestic infrastructure development, global energy alternatives, and the destruction of terrorist networks convinced millions of people to blaze a new path of citizen leadership in the twenty-first century. In suburban Pennsylvania, a coalition constituted from every generation stood together to deliver the entire state for the President, despite the opposition from small-town newspapers and municipal official committed to the failed, fractured politics of sprawl. Now, as schools conclude their academic calendars and families look to the summer break, we have a chance to make the opportunities of the current government real in our daily lives. We can follow the example of the Villanova Wildcats Final Four basketball team in our communities where we and our neighbors can create a metropolitan society greater than the sum of its parts.
Municipal and school board politics must come into clear focus over the next six months. President Obama’s budget and stimulus packages will be implemented through the state legislatures. Citizens who want change in their lives must contact their state representative, state senator, and governor’s office to build a floor under the global financial recession. For the unemployed and underemployed, these contacts are especially important. The benefits that the President has established for us provide the means to continue paying mortgages, covering medical bills, and having a day or a weekend to travel and celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day with our loved ones. We can all use the time and resources our states provide to create a new sense of financial imagination in our homes. Engaging our school boards and municipal councils can change curriculum to encourage more scientific accomplishment in the classroom, leading to the new medical, engineering, and energy industries in our towns. Americans must be committed to developing new small businesses in their homes by using the incentives and stabilization the government will provide for the next two years. A good business can start with $500 and grow to earn $100,000 within that time frame. It could become a serious start-up or micro-enterprise with a gross income nearing $5 million within a decade. For too long, too many of us have been content with a single-salary in our lives. President Obama has opened the door to real wealth for all Americans, especially those who have never had a similar chance over the last century.
The cost of the dramatically expanded opportunity structure is the re-establishment of global political stability. China, Russia, Venezuela, and Iran must find ways to work constructively with the United States in expanding the framework of economic growth beyond the nineteenth century foundations of Europe and North America. Afghanistan and Pakistan represent the most promising areas for collaboration as the world comes together to destroy the violence of religious terrorism. North Korea must also be held accountable for its destabilizing actions in northeast Asia. All of these opportunities offer chances for the largest societies on Earth to demonstrate that peace is the only path to prosperity. President Obama will also have to engage the instabilities on the African continent and establish stronger connections there to compete with China’s aggressive investment. Average Americans must be the engaged diplomats and soldiers of this enormous set of global policies. Joining the National Guard, serving in the Armed Forces, and helping international development through agencies like Habitat for Humanity must become priorities for every American, especially those under the age of 25. These forms of global service could be rewarded with naturalization, financial aid remission, and public capital investment in new ventures. Domestic development becomes international stability.
We can accomplish the President’s agenda most profoundly by dismantling the racial barriers in our neighborhoods and school districts aggressively over the next generation. Too often, suburban communities have replicated the patterns of urban segregation that existed in cities dating back to 1810. The processes of uneven development in our metropolitan regions undermined the stable and efficient growth of our economy, creating distrust and cynicism where there should have been optimism and creativity. In Pennsylvania, the divisions between Bensalem, Norristown, Pottstown, Phoenixville, and Coatesville as communities and Newtown, North Wales, Pottsgrove, Kimberton, and Radnor reflect artificial assumptions tinged with the lies of racism. These metropolitan barriers to growth affect every part of the country — sometimes consuming entire states. It is time for the institutions of wealth and the captains of industry to join hands with the community activists and civil rights organizers to lead the change in building the most efficient, transparent, and accountable economy in world history. Collaboration at the state and local level between macro-economic capital and the social justice infrastructure will transform both the regulatory system at the federal level and the historic denial of opportunity at the school district level. This process begins with conversation, and the social networks of the Internet provide an extraordinary opportunity to realize it.
My employer, Ursinus College, ranked among the top ten institutions in the United States for providing value to our students based on our tuition. (Smart Money magazine, January 2009) We are an enterprise dedicated to the process of global engagement and the transformative leadership of the individual in a dynamic world system. In many ways, Ursinus has pioneered the strategies that President Obama proposes for the United States and the world. The paradigm shift the President represents must not remain strictly symbolic. The only way it can transcend the imagery and rhetoric is if every person takes her responsibility to live a new life of international awareness. Six months is a long time. I believe we have seen a template since November. I believe we can all make change real before October.