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With the president emerging as the victor of the 2012 election, and the Obama administration set to continue its work over the next four years, I think the proper question to consider is, “What can we do?”

I think it’s useful to develop a perspective on the last four years — particularly, in foreign policy. The image constructed for the Obama campaign is an appealing one, after all — in the debates, in ads, in rallies — that the administration has remained committed to practical, peaceful methods of ending our military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the tranquilizing rhetoric now has the consequence of cloaking our actions in Pakistan, and the increasing hostility in our dealings with Iran.

A study entitled “Living Under Drones,” conducted by the New York University Law School, Global Justice Clinic and Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, details the day-to-day life of the Pakistani citizens:

“Far more disturbing even than the casualty figures is the portrait presented in the report of an entire society traumatized by the strikes. Interviews with over a hundred inhabitants of the kill zone — not easily conducted, given the Pakistan government’s policy of barring access to all outsiders — reveal many exhibiting classic symptoms of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. The pervasive fear among Waziris that anyone can be a target at any time gives the lie to notions that only confirmed terrorists are targeted — if that were so, innocents would know they are safe and move freely accordingly. Instead they are all condemned to live in what a rare American observer, former hostage journalist David Rhode, described as ‘hell on earth.’” More information on this issue can be found at counterpunch.org.

The other major concern is the economic sanctions in our dealings with the Iranian government. Glenn Greenwald, journalist for The Guardian, reports:

“On October 1st and 2nd Iran's rial lost more than 25 [percent] of its value against the dollar. Since the end of last year it has depreciated by over 80 [percent], most of that in just the past month. Despite subsidies intended to help the poor, prices for staples, such as milk, bread, rice, yogurt and vegetables, have at least doubled since the beginning of the year. Chicken has become so scarce that when scant supplies become available they prompt riots. On October 3rd police in Tehran fired tear-gas at people demonstrating over the rial’s collapse. The city’s main bazaar closed because of the impossibility of quoting accurate prices.”

These two instances alone should cause concern for the conscious voter. It is precisely these types of policies, perpetuated by the Obama administration, that hopeful voters declared their condemnation of when Obama first emerged victorious over John McCain in 2008. The president recognized this in his victory speech on election night, when in a rhetorical flourish, he declared that the spirit of the people will overcome the obstacles of war.

And yet, the task for activists is renewed with the re-election. On Dec. 15, the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign debuts statewide, with the goal of getting a bill passed that will bring single payer health care to Maryland. Activists in anti-war circles, including the “Iraq Veterans Against the War” and “Veterans for Peace,” move forward in their efforts to hold the Obama administration to its word. The environmentalist movement recognizes the recent natural disaster, Hurricane Sandy, as a manifestation of the human effect on the planet — and they move forward in ending the silence on climate change. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer activists have a cause for celebration, as voters in Maryland have declared that all love is equal. They continue to move forward in fighting the inclusion of transgender equality in the issue.

The battle for the White House is over — but the fight for freedom and equality, the end to war, abolition of poverty — the fight for those things is merely reaffirmed. It is indeed hope and change that people have voted for again. But the application of those two ideas runs deeper than a ballot, or a political leader. Hope and change come out of the result of, not desire, but need. And addressing those needs means remembering our own power. If we choose not to write, organize, speak and forfeit our power to only our ballot, then voting is meaningless. It is when we realize that those small acts are our true votes, and our true power, that we remember that change has to come from us.

Whether we decide to act, or allow ourselves to become consumed by cynicism and passivity, will determine what type of legacy we will be a part of in the next four years.

Stephen Wallace, Huntingtown