"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."


A pseudo-Tibetan garden flag that once flew over the garage had already gone to tatters before the house got a new paint job this summer. We'd done some haphazard shopping for a color-coordinated replacement when my wife suggested mounting the Stars and Stripes if Barack Obama were elected.

My daily routine now includes putting out a new American flag on a block where most of the yards sprouted Obama signs until they all vanished one October night.

One morning, a neighbor called out across the street: "That looks beautiful!"

That it does.

But what does it mean? Initially, I suppose, it was an expression of hope and an exuberant affirmation of democracy. You know -- vague, like we progressives are often accused of being.

In the ensuing weeks, the ritual unfurling has inspired continuing meditations.

Under previous White House standard-bearers, I had surrendered the flag. Following a breach that went back to Vietnam, I left Old Glory to the pietists and love-it-or-leave-it patriots, allowing it to become a symbol of preemptive power, gas-guzzling consumption and Texas League hubris. Flagless, I held American ideals in common with -- but subtly distanced myself from -- people who were working in churches, hunting clubs and Legion halls toward the same things I valued.

In reclaiming the flag, I'm not trying to declare victory for my side. I'm displaying my desire for a more perfect union -- and renewed appreciation for a country that still works because long ago it designed itself for change.

And change is definitely in store.

The times ahead will present an opportunity for flag-wavers old and new to reexamine some once-soothing myths -- about domestic tranquility achieved through globalism, about the benign efficiencies of giant corporatism and about financial markets that promise substantial rewards with minimal risk.

Such a big mess seems to require a big effort. But Big has proven itself suddenly inflexible and ineffectual. Supposed to unleash capital, distribute risk and inspire innovation, Big Influence in our financial affairs enabled greed, concentrated its toxins and heightened the precipice over which we may yet tumble.

For progressives and conservatives alike it will be hard to trust Big Business or Big Government to pull us through this, especially with some of the culprits and their coconspirators still in charge.

As the smoke clears, we can see more clearly the safety nets that were already rigged beneath the high-flying market. A government that seemed oblivious to crumbling infrastructure, listless about addressing unemployment and flummoxed by health-care reform now springs into action. So far, though, it looks like the lifeline is really a VIP rope line, and those living ordinary lives still find themselves on the other side.

Given bailout or collapse as our only options, who wants to mark that ballot? If we seek other choices, we must make them -- mindful that most of our mutual interests are not found in our mutual funds.

We have learned that much of our supposed wealth was an abstraction easily erased. A flag, too, is only a symbol of our good fortune, and we must take steps to ensure the assets it represents still exist in the real world.

Our next president sent the message that change is about what we do next. By failing to be prescriptive, he was not being vague. He was acknowledging that each of us can see something that needs doing, something that is directly within our powers to change. Change for the nation will be shaped by our individual choices and how they affect others.

Shaped not by what we run up the flagpole, but what we do with the rest of our day.

Charlie Quimby has decided to do less blogging and volunteer once a week in the child center of a Minneapolis homeless shelter.