Washington, DC. – The nation’s capital was crowded but with only a fraction of the spectators who in 2009 braved colder temperatures to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president. Back then, the country was weary of two wars and anxious of an economy that was beginning to unravel. This is the political and economic context that explains why “change”–the slogan of the 2008 Obama campaign– became the currency of choice among ordinary citizens.
Four years later, I stood in the National Mall to witness President Barack Obama take his second oath. In four years, he led the overhaul of our health care system, instituted more regulation of the financial system, has drawn two wars to a close, and is staying the deportation of millions of illegal immigrant students and military service members —the “DREAMers.” He appointed the first Latina to the Supreme Court –Sonia Sotomayor– who in another first, administered the oath to the Vice President.
Yet in this time frame, so much has not happened: the latest unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, the same as it was in January of 2009, the median household income has dropped while the number of Americans living below the poverty level has risen, according a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Millions of the undocumented who are not DREAMers live terrified that at any moment their families will be ripped apart since this president didn’t keep his promise of comprehensive immigration reform but stepped up deportations.
Another characteristic of the president’s first term was the ugly gridlock that slowed down, at times to a grinding halt, the people’s business. Not a trace of it today, as Democrats and Republicans stood side by side, the pomp and circumstance a sign that partisan politics is on hold.
But this political truce may soon evaporate, leaving in the lurch so many pressing issues the president touched upon in his Inaugural speech such as gun control, jobs, entitlement reform, climate change and immigration.
In at least one respect, tomorrow is different. In November, Latino voters were the key in the coalition that delivered re-election to the President Obama. Whether celebrities walking the Latino Inaugural Ball red carpet like Eva Longoria or the waiters inside the Kennedy Center, the feeling the last few days among Hispanics is not that “we have arrived” (in fact, many noted that in the Southwest, Latinos have been here before it was the United States). Rather, after our historic vote, the consensus is that our time is now.
But shaping our now and our future requires a daily commitment of political and civic participation that will send a clear message to our leaders to set aside ideology and party to negotiate, stand firm, at times compromise, ultimately vote for issues that will make our country more prosperous and secure.
The president is being tasked with leading our country to a better tomorrow. It is up to all of us, especially a new emerging political voting bloc, to hold him accountable.
The work, our work begins.
Viviana Hurtado is the founder and blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club and the host of Hispanic Business Today: American Success Stories, nationally syndicated on NBC. She is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino. You can follow her on Twitter at: @vivianahurtado