January 20, 2009 is a day that will long be remembered for changing the world. How much? Much of that depends on us, and some of the events of this day are perhaps windows to both our challenges and our opportunities.
Below are some random observations and musings along these lines:
• “Me” vs. “We”; there were lines everywhere to get into any part of the Capital Mall to see and hear the festivities and swearing-in. And there were incredible struggles among the crowd to make sure that we as individuals were a part of it, and to honor President Obama’s call for unity. The struggle was palpable, as people tried to balance the commitment to something bigger than ourselves with wanting to be so much a part of it. I think that this will be the monumental struggle for our society if we are going to do all we can to heed Obama’s leadings. He is going to call on us to be a community, but we are used to being individuals.
• Boos for Bush – as he was introduced, there were plenty of boos for Bush. I certainly understand the pent up frustration – this presidency will easily go down as the worst two-term ever, if not the worst ever. Outcomes, not effort, really are important here, and he has left an absolute mess. But he has had a lot of accomplices, and much as we might not like to admit it, one thing he was trying to do was maintain the American way of life. Instead, he exposed us for what we can be at our worst. The fact is we cannot change our world effectively for the better unless we can look honestly at who we are. He helped us to see much of the worst of ourselves – addicted to oil, potential for greed, arrogant, easily swayed by fear. Sometimes we only learn things by suffering from the consequences of them. So, as Obama calls us to a higher level (even a national maturation from our adolescence) we all have to look at what lessons are to be learned. I don’t think an Obama election would have been possible for another 12 years were it not for Bush showing us at our worst. We as a nation put him in power (I know, most of us didn’t vote for him, but it’s still our system), and many of our elected officials went along, and let’s face it, for decades we’ve all benefited from this way of life).
• There was a lot of Quakerism during the event, not that Quakers hold any license to these things. First there was the inaugural poem which spoke of light and love. And then, there was the musical performance of Simple Gifts, the unofficial Quaker anthem that is an old Shaker song. (The irony – a simple song, praising simple things, turned into a masterful musical piece – what I’m trying to say is a simple theme but not simple to play). I think in many ways, Obama may help Friends to see that of God in all things, as he reaches out across ideologies, parties and nations.
• Cameras, cell phones, and leaving early: It was interesting to observe people trying to capture moments, rather than being in the moments. The former involves cell phones and cameras – really distractions from being in the moment. From where I was standing, for example, the view was really not great. I could see the main stage, but no one was distinguishable. The jumbotron was barely visible, and far away. And I’m 6’2”. Most people could not even see that. But arms were raised, cameras clicking, cell phones going with messages (the system was overloaded). Then, there were people who just seemed to “be”. Listening meditatively, many with tears. It was a reminder to me of the importance of both. I chose to just be. It moved my heart.
• My favorite line of the inaugural speech: the old way of doing things will not serve. It’s not a matter of less or more government; it’s “does government work?” This is a paraphrased quote, but the essence is I think what Obama will be all about. Barack Obama is not an ideologue: I think he will challenge Democrats and Republicans to come together in ways that are going to be real hard for people. We are so used to being divided, and not talking to our adversaries. He’s going to talk to everyone.
• Last night, as I was waiting for an hour for a bus in the cold (traffic problems), I saw countless limousines, tuxes, and lines for balls. Funny thing in NW DC: so much celebration, but done with wealth, and crowds mostly white. I suspect that if Obamanation really takes root, this too may all have to change. Think about how many hungry people could have been fed last night with all that money going elsewhere.
We have seen ourselves at our worst over the last 28 years (yes, 28!), as a nation. While Clinton was a bit of a respite, he did little to stem American hedonism (it’s not part of his nature – he is more of a “if it feels good, do it” kind of guy, and under his administration we saw the explosion of big cars, big houses, dot-com millionaires getting rich off of nothing, and far less done for AIDS, the environment and energy than could have been done, especially given the post-administration popularity for both him and Gore).
As Obama-nation sets in, I suspect it’s going to be like waking up with a hangover. We hold our heads, look around, and say “what the hell happened”. Then as the head clears, we are going to have some hard lessons – about greed and compassion. I think Obama can set the road map, but it is up to us to see it through, and that’s going to be a lot of change on our part. Many Democrats/liberals I know are already disappointed with his “moderate” actions so far (i.e. Rick Warren). I think Obama is operating on a whole different level – on a plane that is not liberal-moderate-conservative, but all of us. He can’t do this unless we are all willing to show up, and instead of “demand for me”, dialogue in a way that I am heard, you are heard, we all are heard, and then we can discern, together, a way that collectively meets basic needs first. We do need all hands on deck, not 51% beating 49% into submission. I’m optimistic that yesterday set us on that course.
Submitted by Brad