It is likely that you heard now-President Barack Obama
make this declaration (or some folksier but grammatically similar variation of it) in various of his campaign speeches, back when he was running for the presidency. But as it turns out, he is not the originator of the line. This is not to suggest that he is a plagiarist
, but that he has simply chosen to enunciate a neat-and-profound-sounding sentiment that has been around for some time. In fact, it seems it comes from a poem
, titled Poem for South African Women
by one June Jordan, who penned the piece "in commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who, August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest" against apartheid
in South Africa
. Jordan recounts therein the various struggles of the South African people and indignities heaped upon them until they had had enough of quietly bearing it and protested. The poem was presented at the United Nations
on August 9, 1978; apartheid was then still in full swing, and was not abolished until 1994 -- which is something remarkable in itself, that in a nation calling itself a civilized democracy
, it took until 1994 to eliminate a legal regime which prohibited people from marrying based on their race, and on the same basis segregated schools and beaches and water fountains.
But back to the line itself. Obama has taken some heat from critics for using this line. He has been accused of exhibiting a great deal of egoism
, as if he was declaring himself and his followers to be the 'we,' to be the savior
s whom the nation had been awaiting (though in fairness, I have yet to see a serious candidate for President of the United States who isn't pleased as punch with his own cleverness and ability); but others have suggested the opposite, that the line was something of a self-indictment, and a charge against his own supporters and the American people, observing that our constant grumbling
had not manifested in change from the ground up because we were too busy grumbling, and ought to get out and do the things we wished to see done; to volunteer and build what needed building, to teach the untaught and provide for the unprovided. If that is the sentimentation
which Obama seeks to convey in repeating this line, it seems not to have worked. People have taken their energy into protests, yes, and more strained vocalization of their political preferences, right, left, or things altogether different. But this amounts to simply louder and more coordinated grumbling of the 'hey somebody do
Naturally, in this sense we really are
the ones we've been waiting for, and we wait still. I am reminded of a cartoon
I saw recently. On the front lawn of a suburban house, a small child was pinned under a fallen tree branch -- not an especially big branch from an adult point of view, but too heavy for the child to lift. And a few feet away a stoutly muscular man (who, obviously, could easily lift the branch) was on his knees fervently praying, "O Lord, please do something to help free this child from this tree branch!!" And I wonder, the actual egoism of politician
s aside, have we the people symbolically bestowed godhood
upon them, as we sit with the potential to effect our own change if we wished it, and yet still waste that energy directing our vocal complaints towards Washington, D.C.
instead of up simply into the sky
? And, indeed, I wonder if directing those grumblings skyward might be the more productive option.