Though I missed the thrill of being there, I felt privileged to experience the historic 44th inauguration (I wish we could get rid of that monarchial word) through the lens of various media cameras. The Channel 4 talking heads even had a surprisingly impassioned “pre-show” discussion about the significance of a black presidency and articulately placed the event upon Dr. King’s shoulders and upon the shoulders of the Civil Rights Movement activists who shed their blood, sweat and tears for this day. Protests and marches were discussed in an almost surreal heroic and positive light. I had the feeling that dissent might even become fashionable for the mainstream, in which case I could give it up and move on to other things.
I keep reading President Obama’s speech. His repeated use of the term “we” rather than “I” often includes people beyond our borders. This refreshing recognition that the United States is part of an interdependent, international community, not everybody’s boss, is in itself a move forward. Like Elizabeth Alexander’s Praise Song for the Day—which I loved—the speech is a poem, a gripping, narrative snake poem inspired by swift, light strokes of personal color, sound and slivers of history slithering back and forth between we-rose-up-then stories of the past and we-can-rise-up-again calls, while stitching and suturing our hopes to our dreams with repetitive calls for patience, courage and service. The speech offers almost no specific plans, but being delivered by the first black president, the spell of “all good is actually possible” manages somehow to prevail. Rev. Lowery’s ancient, whimsical and wise benediction of love and forgiveness crowned a rare and wonderful experience which happened to be only incidentally framed by a pompous Washington, D.C. event.
The stories from the mall were especially moving. Gwen Ifill and others interviewed people who had been crying all day, people—elders, and boomers—who were finally able to shed the bitterness, distrust and pain of having been lifelong victims of deep down racism. A mother talked about how her child could do anything now. Children talked about how they could do anything now. Whatever the future may bring, the relief and joy that came from this symbolic moment of breaking free from our collective black pain and white guilt and releasing it into the universe (even from my warm, comfortable couch), feels like the parameters of possibilities for everybody everywhere have expanded.
I’m sure for the lucky people who were there, the experience was hotter and colder and many more times intense than for those of us on the couch. However, they may have missed the camera shot of a distinguished senator blowing her nose between introductions at the Inauguration, Bill and Hillary Clinton fawning all over the elder and younger Bush’s and dramatically shunning Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. They may have missed the sight of Michelle’s brother stifling a yawn before the Inaugural Address and the surprised look on Barack’s face when he glanced down at one point during the parade to see Michelle slip briefly out of her shoes.
Laura Santina is an Oakland resident.