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Civil rights history informs 'We are the ones'

On Feb. 26, the Star Tribune published a commentary piece by Harry Boyte regarding the call for civic agency that Barack Obama has made a part of his presidential campaign, and what might be behind the enthusiastic reaction by voters in places with populist roots such as Minnesota.

Boyte's commentary begins:

The phrase that Barack Obama has used in several speeches, "we are the ones we've been waiting for," has been widely misattributed. Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column credited its origins to a "New Age-y speech" by Maria Shriver, who supposedly got it from Hopi Indians. Others have missed the mark on the meaning of the phrase. Thus, Joe Klein, writing in Time magazine, derided the thought that the campaign is about anything but Obama: "The Obama campaign is all too often about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."

In fact, the phrase comes from a song of the Southern civil rights movement. And the way it is resonating says a good deal about the public mood today.

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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs