Thursday, April 28, 2011

Looking for Heroes in the USA

Wael Ghonim, Google’s young marketing executive credited with sparking the revolution in Egypt that ousted Hosni Mubarak, announced this week that he will take a long-term leave from Google to start an NGO (non-governmental organization) devoted to ending poverty and promoting education in Egypt.

Over the weekend, Time magazine included him in its latest list of the 100 most influential people. He is my hero.

Former United Nations chief nuclear inspector and Egyptian politician Mohamed ElBaradei said of Ghonim: "Wael Ghonim embodies the youth who constitute the majority of Egyptian society - a young man who excelled and became a Google executive but, as with many of his generation, remained apolitical due to loss of hope that things could change in a society permeated for decades with a culture of fear.”

While our society does not have a majority of youth, and, thank God, our society is not permeated with fear, we can relate to the loss of hope that things here will change given the selfish and self-serving atmosphere in our state and federal governing bodies.

Not only our young people, but also many Baby Boomers shake their heads and turn away from engagement in the political process - abandoning hope that things will improve. We are hard-pressed to identify a single person in power who speaks for us, whose voice is our voice. Lawmakers seem removed from us and working mainly for their own self-preservation.

Even President Obama, battered by relentless toadies on both sides of the aisle, conceded that the change he envisioned eludes him. He may have surrendered, relinquishing his own aspirations, no longer apart from the bleakness of “at least getting something done.”

Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison. We could argue that things are simpler in Egypt. Corrupt rulers persecuting innocent people. Homogenous society held back by greedy tyrants.

We don’t experience the kind of intimidation and torment the Egyptian people endured. Our population is heterogeneous and multifaceted. Our issues also.

Still, we seek a Wael Ghonim among our elected officials. He put himself at risk and spoke out against the brutal police state that held Egypt by the throat for thirty years. As he might have predicted, he himself disappeared shortly after tipping the Facebook domino that inspired and empowered the Egyptian people. Only with help from Google and (by his assessment) President Obama, was he freed to speak again. Now he’s setting aside his own secure position in our country to devote himself to the Egyptian people and their future.

Who among our politicians puts himself at risk? Whose integrity prohibits him from remaining silent? Who dares to challenge his own party? Which legislator would support his colleague for speaking his mind if it strayed from the party line?

Name one. Go ahead, if you can. Who will forgo his own security to further empower and inspire the American people?

On the other side, Wael Ghonim himself will likely find that relieving poverty, for example, is not so straightforward as it seems. Certainly, establishing a government of the people and for the people promises to present unimagined difficulties.

We hold so much hope for Egypt because it reminds us of how we once were: New in the world having thrown off oppressive bonds, on the brink of rebirth, full of vision and promise. Are there more like Wael Ghonim who will now step forward to create a new day for Egypt and the Arab world?

I shudder to think that he could be overwhelmed and defeated. Would he ever shake his head and turn away? Could he succumb to the terrible weight of “the way things always have been,” become a bureaucrat, push paper, secretly knowing he sold out?

What of our politicians? Rushing and turning, never moving alone or taking the road less traveled. From strategy meeting to news conference, do they remember who they are and what their charge is? In their distorted province, they bustle about like elementary children on the soccer field playing bunch ball.

Meanwhile it’s jobs and the economy. Immigration. Education of our children. Global relationships. Enemies and friends. War and war and war.

If anyone can ring the bell and sound a resonant note on these issues, please do so. Tell the truth. Be guided by principle. Cut through the double talk and harangue. Shine a light. We’ll listen and follow.

We’re looking for heroes.