Tuesday, 20 January 2009

‘Yes We Did!’ Barack Obama’s Historic Inauguration


‘Yes we did!’ The three simple words etched in blue, announced their presence by the static orange light of an unanswered MSN Messenger icon. They were the poignant reminder from a friend and colleague of just how historic the occasion of President Barack Hussein Obama’s Inauguration as President of the United States of America and ‘Leader of the Free World’ was. Embodied in those three words were the power of conviction and the hope of a generation. Not only were we witnessing history in the inauguration of the first African-American to the highest office of US President, we were also watching the US undergo real and palpable change, if even at the level of the emotional.

I cried, unashamedly. The tears flowed silently and then more audibly, especially just before the arrival of then President-Elect Obama to the podium. The cameras caught his tall figure, serious face and pursed lips, as he walked slowly and purposefully the length of the corridor before opening the door for his date with destiny.

I was reminded of the title of President Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, chronicling his life from political activist and convict, jailed for twenty seven years for his unbroken opposition to the objectionable sins of apartheid, to become President of South Africa, then a newly minted democratic nation in 1994. Mandela took with him the hopes of generations of Africans who had drunk long and deep from the bitter cup of racial hatred, abiding oppression and segregation.

In that moment, Barack Obama and President Mandela became one. Across the boundaries of geography and even time, albeit short, their dreams seemed united; twinned in the universal demand for human rights and dignity. In it, I saw the visions of the slaves and the promise and power of their rebellions; their insistent cries of admission not just to the community of nations but also the dignity of the human family. Dr. King’s dreams were being realized and my insistent prayers had not gone unanswered.

Barack Obama would, in a few short moments, take the Oath of Office and with that become the President of the United States of America. However, before that there was the interminable walk of deep reflection and the adoration and pride of the sea of supporters just beyond those doors. Barrack Hussein Obama was scripting history with every purposeful step. His countenance showed confidence and understanding; his measured strides an indication of the challenges which awaited him, not just in America but outside of it.

The economic crisis and the foreclosures would test this great man, as would the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the POWs at Guantanamo Bay. There was Russia, Israel and the Middle East. Iran. India and Pakistan and closer to home, even Cuba. But, still he walked. And I cried some more. The tears came quicker now, almost uncontrollably in their anguished, if not victorious release from pent up anxieties. This was the cry of realization that, as my friend on Messenger had pointed out; we had come ‘from slavery to the Presidency!’

History was unfolding and even while, my silent tears did not mean much in the actual writing of this chapter, told to us through the ‘immediacy’ and global reach of the CNN and BBC news media, I had witnessed it all the same. Moved by its power and the audacity of the kind of hope that had propelled President Obama to such an important moment, I was awestruck and overwhelmed all at once. Words seemed so inadequate in giving vent to my emotions that all I could do was cry, like a small child, humbled by history’s power to self correct. I watched in complete amazement, praying all the time, fervent in my hope for this great man on whose shoulders rested so many of the world’s ills.

This must have been how the Israelites felt when the waters of the Red Sea parted and they were allowed safe passage between it, from Pharaoh’s marauding bands of Egyptians threatening to return them to a life of domination and control from which they had only recently escaped. The parallels were unmistakable. Barack Obama was the modern day Moses, in many respects, parting a different kind of sea – a new frontier of threatening economic ruin and polarizing wars fought on the premise of religious and political ideology, control of the world’s energy and, though often unspoken, nationality, race, heritage and borders.

For better or worse, the world had changed and the ‘Israelites’ of the modern age though scattered across disparate lands, different time zones and places, were now joined together by one common cause. It was much larger than ourselves; much larger than any of us could individually conceive – the gift of Hope! Barack Obama was our leader and the tides of Red Sea’s looming despair were parting with every step he made down that corridor.

With seriousness etched on his face, Barack Obama was preparing to not only take the Oath, he was preparing to lead the world and we, his throng of supporters removed by heritage, culture, nationality, language, time and even technology were all caught up in the power of the emotion. And, so I cried.

Pausing momentarily to gather myself and focus, I decided that more than anything else, my return to this blog would be marked by the momentous inauguration of President Barack Obama to the US Presidency. It symbolized a kind of achievement which allowed me to think that, notwithstanding my own personal concerns, all things were possible and that, because of that possibility we/ I could make it.

The potency of his acceptance speech and the focus on the Civil Rights Movement and the American War for Independence, as well as the Global War on Terror only served to reinforce that pride – that deep and unmistakable joy. Hope renewed and sagging spirits refreshed, the powerful words had instilled in all of us the charge, not only to Americans, to proclaim the victory in all parts of the lands in which we lived. All were joined together. The cause was universal. We were all were soldiers in the great hope of transformation.

How would it all pan out? We were not sure…yet! But one thing was certain, in this moment we were all one…And we most, certainly, could!

After all, out of many, we are one! Yes we can! Yes we did!

Picture shows the smartly dressed President and First Lady Obama at the US Presidential Inauguration Celebrations, on January 20, 2009. President Obama took the Oath of Office and became America's forty-fourth President, the first African-American to do so. (Image courtesy of the Associated Press)

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