By Valerie Jarrett, Senior advisor to the President -
When I woke up on February 10, 2007 in Springfield, Illinois, my heart was full of hope about the infinite possibilities that lay ahead. We knew there would be challenges but we also knew that our country is strong, resilient and exceptional because of the spirit, grit and determination of the American people to constantly work hard to perfect our union.
It's hard to believe that nine years have gone by since that freezing but bright and sunny day on the steps of the Old State Capitol Building. For many of us, here at the White House and across the country, the President's return to Springfield today is a walk down memory lane – a moment to think about where we came from and what has happened since. For me, it was also a moment to revisit the vision he laid out for this country when he announced his candidacy for President.
Re-reading his speech, nine years later, with lots of battle scars, and victories, and what feels like lifetimes of wisdom under our belts, is nothing short of amazing. Many of the policy ideas he put forth — from re-shaping our economy to compete in the digital age, to expanding access to broadband, from ensuring workers can share in our economic prosperity, to becoming the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis — have become reality.
Nine years ago, the President spoke of the need for change to come from communities across the country, not just from Washington. He brought that approach with him – galvanizing governors, mayors, faith, civil rights and business leaders, workers, students, and a broad spectrum of advocates to act, whether by raising the minimum wage, extending family-friendly workplace policies to their citizens, providing early education to their children, overhauling job training programs, joining his My Brother's Keeper Initiative, or ending veterans' homelessness. And together, we have cut our unemployment rate from 10 percent at the height of the economic crisis we inherited to 4.9 percent today.
Nine years ago, the President urged ours to be the "generation that finally tackles our health care crisis." And today, Obamacare is simply health care in America. Nearly 18 million Americans have gained health insurance. Health care prices are growing at their slowest rate in half a century. Americans can no longer be discriminated against because they have been sick before. And young adults can stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26. Americans no longer have to worry about going broke if they get sick or are in an accident.
Nine years ago, President Obama rallied Americans to rise to the challenge that climate change poses to all of humanity. Since then, he has protected more natural resources than any previous president. His fuel economy standards will double the efficiency of vehicles by 2025. His investments in clean energy have transformed the American energy landscape. And together with other world leaders, he brought together 196 nations from around the globe to forge an unprecedented agreement to combat climate change.
And nine years ago, the President talked about the work he had done — and education he had received — from some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. In fact over 30 years ago, the President's job with the Developing Communities Project was to ensure that the residents of neighborhoods across Chicago had a voice in addressing issues facing their communities, from drugs, to violence, to job training. When Barack Obama became President, he pressed to improve the way the federal government partners with citizens and local leaders. These efforts all disrupt the outdated, top-down way the federal government has historically worked with communities in favor of a more citizen-centered and customized approach. This led to initiatives launched by 15 agencies reaching over 1,800 rural, tribal, and urban communities to tackle challenges as varied as climate change and entrenched poverty. Together, these reform efforts work to make local voices and improved local capacity an integral part of community planning and development, improve the federal government's approach to working with communities, and invest in leaders with experience working at the local level.
As the President will lay out again today in Springfield, the change we have made is very meaningful — and so is the work we have left to do. That is no more apparent than when it comes to our divided and broken politics — and that is why you will continue to hear the President talking about this throughout his final year of office.
But at a time when policy ideas from the campaign trail too often never again see the light of day,examining the change of the last nine years provides an important blueprint of what it means to turn ideas into action — and to make hope and change real. You can read more about what the President said back in 2007 and how he delivered on his promises in my first ever Genius annotation: his announcement speech.
Then, you can share your story about where you were when the President announced his candidacy and how it touched you using #WhereWereYou.
First published at WhiteHouse.gov