Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Yesterday I had the privilege of witnessing history. I was cold and achy and walked forever and it was chaotic and the sound echoed. But I was there and it was amazing. I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the Inauguration of our newest President, Barak Obama.
I, along with some two million of my fellow Americans stood on the National Mall and watched Obama take the oath of office and address the country. His speech was eloquent as we have come to expect, but that is not what made the moment so special. It was the grand significance of this moment in American history, and the energy and optimism radiating from an enthusiastic crowd of people who trekked to Washington to be present in that moment, that made it unforgettable. I am awed by the thought that my children will never know what it is to grow up believing that only white Christian men can be president. Okay, in my heart of hearts I believe that Christian is still politically required in this country (though I would love to be proven wrong). And I don’t think that this election ended the significance of racial or gender inequality—but it represented progress that we didn't imagine was possible in our generation.
My parents worked to change the possibilities that American offers. My father was in high school when he volunteered on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968, and later really cut his teeth politically on the McGovern campaign. My mother worked to get women into elected office. They tried to change reality. But by the time I was growing up, they were not expecting to see this happen, not yet. It seemed like the changes they worked for were still a long ways off.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, one of the characters, Hallie Noline writes, “[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” I am not an optimistic person. But yesterday I felt a part of a moment of collective optimism.
All weekend the millions of people who made their pilgrimage to Washington exuded a spirit of exuberance. They were just not celebrating Obama’s inauguration, or even the inauguration of our first black president, but something more – the fact that this seminal event changes the possibilities that the future holds. I grew up in a diverse metropolitan community, and very few of us ever believed that anyone like us could grow up to be President. We were brilliant and we were going places, the presidency just wasn’t one of them. And so I am thrilled that this highly symbolic change – the realization of the impossible dream – has taken place. I believe that more deeply rooted changes have taken place allowing this moment to arise. And I am cautiously optimistic that further deep changes are coming – not just during Obama’s presidency but further into the future. Because it is not one man changing history. It is Americans changing their own destiny by collectively changing the realm of the possible.
Someday I will teach my children about these things, and tell them that I stood there in the cold at that moment. Sí se puede.