In 1972, my mother wore a red, white, and blue flag design long-sleeved shirt to the Democratic National Convention. A housewife and mother, struggling to find her own identity as well as a future for her five daughters, she ran as a delegate for Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm was the first black woman to run for President, and though she didn't win enough delegates to gain a serious place at the negotiation table in the party, her race for the white house made a seismic shift, both in racial and gender political realm. My mother chose the shirt as a statement in the middle of the Vietnam War that, though a divided country, the flag belonged to every American, to every opinion, to every voice.

I was 2 years old when my mother wore her American flag shirt. I remember growing up in the whirling energy of those times, when things were happening so quickly and tangibly, and each American was part of something important and big.

Now I am nearly the same age my mother was, and my daughter is 2 years old. This summer and fall, I wore that same flag shirt each time I went to a political rally or to work to register voters.

I have gotten a lot of hand-me-downs from my mom, but this shirt seemed to carry something else when I got it a decade ago. I am the most politically active of my sisters, and I feel a sense of duty to be writing my representatives in Congress, a sense of guilt that I am not more involved, not chaining myself to the White House until global warming and public school education are dealt with. But I do what I can. It is as if the shirt was a cloak of responsibility to carry the mantel of political involvement.

I have always believed that everyone should vote, even if their vote disagrees with my opinion, and I work hard to get people to be part of the process. As far as my particular opinion, I found it extraordinary that there seemed only good choices in the Democratic primary. Although I was deeply disappointed and discouraged by the rampant sexism that newscasters, colleagues, and my close friends didn't even notice or acknowledge during the campaign, I was encouraged by the racial dialogue that was forced on the table, and thrilled with Obama's speaking about race and religion in America.

One early autumn day, while walking with my daughter and son through a carefully landscaped working-class neighborhood to register voters, I realized that my mother's shirt was 36 years old.

It seemed shocking that 36 years had passed since that time when the world seemed like it was going to change so deeply, that equality was on the horizon, and that we were free to be you and me. As I've grown up and had a career and children of my own, I see how much has remained the same. But now, something has undeniably changed. A non-white man has become President. We have shifted our mind's view of what is possible. And only good can come of that. The day does not seem far off when we will also shift our mind's view so that a woman will be elected President, and the conversation will not be about the size of her ankles, but about her policies and voting history. When that will happen, we now realize -- amazingly -- is up to us.

I wore my mother's American flag shirt when Barack and Michelle Obama came to Columbus two days before the election, and held up my daughter and son to see them above the biggest crowd that the Ohio Statehouse has ever seen. It felt particularly appropriate to wear a shirt reminding us of the American flag -- a symbol that has been, in recent years, marketed crassly and appropriated to stand for things that have been unAmerican. I have always been proud to be American and I felt proud to wear my mother's shirt, proud to stake a claim again for this symbol I love, in this country I love, to feel I have power again.

This whole fall, I stood or walked neighborhoods with whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, men, children. We stood and walked together to make history, and I wore my mother's shirt.

In November, as the television announced that Obama had won the presidency, I stood with my husband and children in the middle of the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Columbus, wearing my mother's red, white, and blue shirt, and I cried. As my husband carried our daughter on his shoulders through the dark streets to our car, we heard shouts and horns, and my four-month-old son looked at the clear and starry sky with wide eyes. I felt such hope. I feel such hope. Our country is in great trouble now but I feel such a sense of possibility.

My mother gave me the shirt off her back, literally and figuratively, and who knows? If we come together and begin the hard work, make sacrifices for a better future, make a smart and long term plan for a 21st century, maybe thirty-six years from now, my daughter or son will be wearing my mother's -- my shirt, fighting for possibilities we haven't yet imagined.

And January 20th, I stood with my daughter and son for the inauguration, and yes, I was wearing my flag shirt. I felt honored to be carrying and witnessing history. This is not just a jubilant moment of achievement; this is also the start of a new era.

So before the pundits dive in to look for scandals or make mountains out of molehills, distracting us from the real issues -- before the new administration takes its first leaps into handling a crumbling economic system, a terrifying environmental future, a delicate international situation -- let's take a moment to celebrate how far we've come and how much opportunity this gives us for the future. Each one of us can change the world. A mother of five, a Hawaiian kid raised by his grandmother, me, and you. This is our chance. Let's grab it. You don't even need a special shirt to do it.