As regular readers already know, I’m the food contributor for Tuning the Student Mind. Most of my posts involve tasty recipes that fill the mind, body and soul with delight and nourishment. Today I’m going to come at you from another maybe unexpected angle. Let’s talk politics for a few, because you should all know about this!

About a week ago I read President Obama’s commencement speech given to the women of Barnard College, class of 2012. In his commencement address, Obama urged women graduates to look to the history of social struggle in the United States for inspiration. Obama recalled pivotal protesting moments in history, and how they positively changed life for present and future generations. He said:

[Watch here – start at 28:37]

“The trajectory of this country should give you hope, previous generations should give you hope. What young generations have done before should give you hope. Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in — from Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall — didn’t just do it for themselves, they did it for other people. That’s how we achieved women’s rights. That’s how we achieved voting rights. That’s how we achieved worker rights. That’s how we achieved gay rights. That’s how we made this union more perfect.” –President Obama commencement address, 2012, Barnard College

Upon reading this excerpt, I became placated by President Obama’s astute ability to assess past situations in a both factual and sensible manner. It lifted a weight off my shoulders to hear the President affirm what I always try to explain to those opposed to the Occupy movement. President Obama has conveyed the message that he himself cannot make the changes our country needs alone–we have to do it…we all have to do it, together.

That’s what all of these historical movements have been about–Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall. They’ve been about people coming together to create a change. Americans have been conditioned to believe that political action and engagement is useless; but as President Obama recalls, history shows the reverse–just ask your parents and grandparents how political activism produced significant advances in civil rights for blacks and women, gay rights, and equal voting rights. Coming together as a people with a collective consciousness, is the only thing that has ever really created change.

Unfortunately, Americans have been accustomed to believe that the power of positive thinking is a solution to our problems, our society’s problems, and the world’s problems. But this obsession with optimism is an impediment; something that is actually undermining America. Instead of taking action and fighting for what’s right, we sit around and assume thinking positive will create the changes we so desire. If one were to speak unequivocally about how messed up things are, he or she would be scorned as “negative”. But are they really being negative, or just realistic? We must know the truth and confront the truth before being set free.

History proves the way to true success and triumph is typically through hard fought struggles. I highly recommend reading the book, Bright-Sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Positive thinking can be good, but we cannot be naive and say “everything is going to be okay” and not take action. Problems are only solved with great focus and attention; the more expectations we have for success through lazy and naive optimism, the more let down we will most likely be. I’m not saying you should be a straight up negative Nancy, but let’s be honest–to be a little pessimistic, and incredibly tenacious, is probably a better approach to achievement. I’m all for practicality.

I proudly support the Occupy movement and independent thinkers out there. Thank you, occupiers, for taking the time to publicly stand up for what you believe, and cheers to working together to create change!

“The Occupy movement has helped rebuild class solidarity and communities of mutual support on a level unseen since the time of the Great Depression.” -Noam Chomsky

Occupy Wall Street 2012

Selma (Chicago) July 26, 1965: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (center, foreground) walks in vanguard of crowd estimated at more than 10,000 persons who gathered in downtown Chicago to protest alleged segregation in the city’s schools.

With love,
Samantha Thomas