Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's a New Day

Barack Obama is now the 43rd man* to accept the oath as President of the United States. Let that sink in for a minute.

Consider for a minute that slaves helped build the Capitol Building and the White House in the 19th century. Consider that 5 years ago, Obama was an obscure Illinois state senator attempting to run for the Senate.

Today we saw something that even in 2009 many thought they wouldn’t see for another generation. I thought I’d be watching with my future kids instead of telling them about it. Barack Obama took the oath of office and as Rev. Joseph Lowery said during the benediction, a great cloud of witnesses watched.

It’s been great watching this ride since it started for most of us in 2004. We watched this obscure Senate candidate deliver a moving speech telling his unique story of being the son of an African man and White woman. Even then, he hoped for America to come together behind its commonalities instead of differences as he said these inspiring words.

“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America…there’s not a Black America and White America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” (Democratic National Convention, 2004)

There’s the irony is that the two previous Presidents from Illinois played an important role in preserving the Union. We all know what Abraham Lincoln did during his presidency but it was also Ulysses S. Grant who turned the tide of the Civil War with his victory at Vicksburg before becoming commanding general of the Union.

Obama is in the same position - albeit by different circumstances - as his Illinois forbearers. Like Lincoln, he’s faced with a divided union. Like Grant, he is dealing with a terrible economy that’s only getting worse (something Grant faced in the Panic of 1873).

I watched the brief moment of the swearing-in’s and the address. It was another of his inspiring speeches that connected this moment with the past as well as look ahead to the future. As someone who knows the power of words and the media, hearing him speak is like watching a lesson in rhetoric and today was no different.

I had my doubts in 2007 when he started his campaign. I remember interviewing students from LA Southwest College and USC and they had mixed emotions about it. Like me, I think they weren’t sure what to expect and for someone who watched him ascend so quickly, I thought we were throwing him to the wolves before he was ready.

Boy, was I wrong?

It was tough for me because I’m almost burned out by the commercialization of it all. Working at a Black newspaper doesn’t help either when I’ve had to resist the urge to respond to co-workers gone green with envy thanks to Obama fever. (how can you charge me for a paper when I work there and you’ve never charged me before? – I can only imagine what Thursday’s madness will be like).

But after talking with my editor yesterday, I remember something someone said to us on Election Day that truly measures Obama’s impact. A 18-year-old guy said that he feels a greater sense of responsibility now and didn’t want to mess things up for the next President.

That’s what change is. Not an ideal, but a different attitude that spurs you to action.

I’m anxious to see what happens now, especially in these next 100 days. Good luck Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden. The world is watching with pride and awaits your first moves.

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task...

“In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. (President Barack Obama, 1/20/09)

*My math isn’t wrong, Grover Cleveland is the 22nd and 24th President so that leaves 42 other presidents.

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