On Tuesday, Nov. 4, we were all witnesses to the momentous election of Barack Obama, whose simple campaign theme of change fed hope to millions of Americans hungry for new leadership and a reason to become engaged in the governance of their nation.
Millions rejoiced here and around the world as the United States made history and, to a certain extent, redressed it. It was a moment to savor, a moment you knew with certainty you would one day be asked, and able to recall, with utmost clarity. Where were you that day in history when history was made? And what was your reaction? Did you yell, cry or simply stare unbelievingly when Obama's face appeared on your TV screen as the projected 44th president of the United States of America.
In cities across the country, a multicultural celebration broke out like champagne corks on New Year's Eve. People of every shade and every age, the rich and the poor, college kids and high school students, parents and grandparents shouted approval. And when he spoke later that night, Obama gave credit to those celebrants. They, he reminded us, the millions who worked for him, believed in him, and voted for him, and not he, deserved the credit.
In many ways, Obama gave a very somber address. He was trying to prepare us for the difficult days ahead.
Our nation, we now know with assuredness, is hungry for change. And our nation, we also know, has millions who are simply hungry.
In 2007, more than 36 million Americans, including 12 million children, lived in homes in which food on the table was not a blessing they could count on with any regularity. These households could be simply listed as "food insecure." In close to 4 million households, the cupboard was bare, and these families were forced to feed themselves with emergency food assistance at least once if not multiple times during that year, according to figures from Feeding America, formerly known as America's Second Harvest.
These people are not strangers, faceless and abstract. They are our neighbors, our co-workers and, perhaps, even members of our family.
Hunger's pain is felt in communities both red and blue, urban and rural, young and old, white, black and brown. Feeding America, which provides nutrition to about 9 million children and 3 million seniors, has charted an increase in poverty and hunger that extends beyond the urban borders and into the suburbs. In 2006, an estimated 4.2 million households had experienced hunger in communities and neighborhoods in which someone could comfortably assume its residents are well off.
Hunger, unfortunately, has no borders.
Hunger has transcended demographic barriers. With the economy in crisis, more people losing jobs, more Americans behind in mortgage or rent payments, expect that many of our fellow citizens — your neighbors, office co-workers, church members — will be forced to use their local food bank to help put dinner on the table.
It is this backdrop of uncertainty that frames our national Thanksgiving celebration. Many will give thanks for the blessings of family, community, good health, employment and a home. And I will join them in this heartfelt giving of thanks. But it's time we do something more, together.
It's time to give what we can to the local food banks and those organizations that provide food and shelter to those of us who have fallen behind.
This is not a hand out, it's lending a hand to those we call neighbor. We don't have to wait until January to begin our celebration of being citizens of the greatest country on the planet. Nov. 4 was more than just Election Day. It was a call to serve, to reform our country and government, and to responsibility, both personal and as a community. It was a call to a common purpose as Americans.
On that day, we were given permission to hope and the power to transform a nation. It was more than an election; it was proof that change comes by working hard, standing together, becoming involved in our community and serving a purpose greater than ourselves.
Will we answer the call to serve? Will we do our share to erase poverty and hunger? Will we donate in record numbers to help the millions of our neighbors and their children who are hit hard in record numbers by the ailing economy? Will we act?
I hope you'll visit www.feedingamerica.org to discover what you can do to help end hunger. I also hope you'll visit charities right where you live and donate your time, your money or both to help make a difference.
This is a call we can all answer. We can look inside our pantry and closets, and then inside our hearts, donating all the canned goods and clothing we have ignored for the past 12 months to a local charity, soup kitchen or food bank.
If we can't eradicate all hunger, then at least let us be the generation that ends it in our neighborhoods. Let us answer the call to serve a larger and higher purpose — our country, our community and our common future. Government cannot do it alone. Nor can our newly elected president, who continues to inspire us to help bring about change above and beyond the kind already created by engaging in our own democracy.
Celebrate or serve? We can, and must, do both. To quote Obama, "Yes, we can."
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.