Profiles of change

Inauguration Issue: President Obama's call for citizen action is already resonating
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amanda@sfbg.com
Photos by Pat Mazzera

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," President Barack Obama told US citizens on his Inauguration Day. "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done."

He's not just cheering himself on — he's asking his constituents to embrace what's to come and to consider what more we can be as the individual moving parts of this incredibly complex country.

Even as far back as the Democratic National Convention, Obama turned his campaign slogan into a call to action. "All across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don't understand is this isn't about me — it's about you."

That rang in the ears of people profiled below, who changed their lives in response to his call. That inspired other changes, suggesting that the effort to elect Obama is having a spillover effect on organizing at other levels — which may become a part of how US citizens respond to his actions in office.

Expectations are high for the changes he will order and already there's indications of what's to come, such as the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality, and a commitment to action on climate change.

Many are eager to see more fundamental change in areas such as war, jobs, housing, energy, and transportation — areas we explore in this issue — as well as greater engagement between the White House and the grassroots groups that helped elect Obama.

In the profiles and stories that follow, the Guardian asks questions about what and who will change and how to move past a pithy slogan to trigger the transformation this country desperately needs.

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MARIA GOMES

Maria Gomes was committed to Obama from the beginning. "I signed up right after he announced," said this Menlo Park resident, who joined Silicon Valley for Obama and volunteered on the campaign.

Her first big assignment was in Iowa, where she spent 10 days campaigning before the caucus along with her husband and two teenage children. For Gomes, Obama's Iowa win was a particularly powerful and pivotal moment. "I just realized the power of the volunteers and how awesome it was," she said. "It was clear to me after Iowa that he was going to win, so I just dove in."

Gomes, a 60-year-old lawyer, took an eight-month unpaid leave from her work as an immigration and dependency attorney for San Mateo County to devote herself fulltime to Obama's campaign. It was the first time she devoted her life to get a politician elected.

"In fact, I [had] steered away from politics because I don't really like politics," she said. "This was different. I really strongly felt the people carried this campaign. I canvassed with CEOs, doctors, young people ... nobody took a back seat in this campaign. We did not take it lightly."

She and her husband served as precinct captains in California. After the primary, she coordinated volunteers and voter registration efforts for the general election. Gomes traveled to seven states in the months leading up to Nov. 4, spending Election Day working on voter protection in Las Vegas.

"I felt that the only way he was going to get elected was if people got in there. It wasn't just going to happen," said Gomes, an immigrant from Cabo Verde, off the western coast of Africa.

And it's not over for Gomes. Her whole family went to Washington DC for the inauguration, where she answered Michelle Obama's call to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.