When our country is in a time of crisis, it is easy and almost natural to go to a dark place of fear and pessimism; to worry and agonize over the way things are, to see little chance for improvement or hope for change.

It is hard to emerge from that dark place, and sometimes it is hard not to go there. So why is there hope in the air-strong hope, undaunted hope, courageous hope? This hope, though it is tied to the upcoming election, goes beyond politics, beyond elections, beyond one person or one political party. This hope is the hope for change. It’s not only the hope of things getting better than they are, but the hope that things will be not only better but also very different. That is the boldness of this hope.

I’m in a vantage spot to see one embodiment of hope every day, come to life in the steady stream of visitors to the Minnesota Obama headquarters, which is housed next to the Women’s Press. An amazing cross-section of people walk through those doors. They are suburban matrons with patent-leather purses who walk out carrying an Obama-Biden lawn sign. They are hiply dressed young urbanites who are eager to show their support and disappointed that the campaign is out of lapel buttons again. They are grandfathers who volunteer to help the people who walk in the door; they are the dozens of teenage girls who clog up the coffee shop around the corner after their volunteer shifts are over.

The visitors are a friendly bunch; they smile and gather on the sidewalk to chat. But they are not the only embodiment of this hope. It is written in the editorials of as staid a publication as the New York Times. It is in spoken in the endorsements of prominent Republicans who dare to voice their belief that real change is needed and within our grasp, and to stand across the partisan divide to name it.

There is hope in the many first-time campaign volunteers who believe they really can make a difference; hope that comes from more people than ever registered to vote. There is hope in the evidence that American society is moving beyond a tolerance (sometimes a grudging one), of diversity, to a place of embracing and valuing differences. And there is hope in the belief that no matter how big the problems we face, citizens can work together with each other and those we elect to discover new and different solutions.

And finally, there is hope in the fact that the “conventional wisdom” that negative campaigning works has been turned on its ear and proven not just wrong, but that, for once, the politics of fear and divisiveness have come back to bite those who have cynically employed them.

To value diversity of race or gender or of any sort is to understand and value the inherent differences in our life experience that make us who we are. I find it exciting to be in a time where our American society is beginning to welcome new ways of thinking and believing. It feels as though we are beginning to go beyond a fear of differences to a positive curiosity about how our differences can strengthen us as individuals and as a people.

I’ve caught the hope bug. I see it everywhere these days. It’s a hope tempered with realism. It’s a realization that even pulling the lever or drawing the arrow that points at hope is not enough, but it is a beginning. And it is a beginning that we can all hold onto as we ride the roller coaster of these turbulent times.

“Keep hope alive!” It was the thundering mantra of one of the greatest orators I’ve ever heard-the Rev. Jesse Jackson. And he has gotten that wish, or at least, a start of it. We can choose to hope; we have something to hope for.