Monday, January 26, 2009

New Directions

It is now one week since my new President took office. It has taken me a week almost to come back down to earth. I still pinch myself occasionally to make sure I am really alive to experience this historic transition.

As the glitter and glitz subsides, I pause to take in all the joy that I am feeling. But amidst the jubilation as the events of this past week unfolded, a lot of us were prone to weepy-eyed moments.

Being a 60+ Scottish-English-American growing up in the US post WWII, I was young, but concerned and impressionable during what were Americas "halcyon" years. We were strong and we were good. We helped liberate Europe to defeat the evil scourge of Hitler. We could stand tall and say we were American.

Unfortunately the years of my youth were punctuated with dark moments. McCarthyism swept the country when I was in elementary school and I observed the concrete evidence of the damage divisive hate campaigns can do on a country's psyche. Naive as I was, I could nonetheless feel the pain of this country I was growing up in.

My adult coming of age coincided with the civil rights movement and my first political involvements were the protest marches in the '50's and '60's. I was a beatnik and a folkie, infused with the idea that through community action common people can make a difference for good.

So it should come as no surprise my seminal moments of last week's amazing events. At the inauguration itself, it wasn't the crowds and the electric charge of the moment, but rather the sobriety of the images of the Tuskegee Airmen and Representative Lewis in the audience that brought tears to my eyes.

Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military group during WWII, who flew with distinction and then returned to their own country only to fight continued racism and bigotry. They were equal in death, but not in life.

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, one of the early group of Freedom Riders, the inter-racial group who in 1961 boarded buses in the north destined for the south, with the whites sitting in back and the blacks in front. Brave men and women testing the reality of the Supreme Court decision that in 1946 declared racially segregated seating on buses to be unconstitutional. They faced angry mobs, fire bombs, beatings, stoning, and the full wrath of Bull Conner's Jim Crow.

All of the music was top rate, and, yes, I loved Aretha's hat, but the most memorable moment of the 4-day period preceeding the official inauguration came on Sunday at the We Are One Concert. I was momentarily saddened that Odetta didn't live to sing for the event, but Pete was there for her.
Yes, that grand icon of folk music himself, Pete Seeger. He is the embodiment of what America can be at it's best. His whole life has been a tribute to the very things that the Obama Administration gives promise to--unity, hope, sanity and justice--the re-enfranchisement of an entire segment of America.

Black listed durng those dark McCarthy years, he never gave up believing in the true spirit of the country. That wonderful 89 year old minstrel voice of the people singing Woody's signature song, This Land is Your Land" sent thrilling chills down my spine.

Yes my new President's speech was better than good; it was fantastic. Yet it is not what he says, but what he stands for that fills me with hope and inspiration.

If our nation can come together and work as one, the outcome will always be, "YES WE CAN!" With the true spirit of "Yes We Can," there will always be HOPE!

1 comment:

Ruth Lopez said...

Cat, I enjoyed your perspective on how our country has changed since you were a child. I also enjoyed your apple pie during our chat at the Writer's Club in Nov before I flew back to the US. I hope that you will decide to resume your blog when you get the chance - great articles! Also, I hope that you found your favorite pencil. If not, let me know if I can help :)