Friday, 25 January 2013

Doing Something: Obama's Second Inaugural Address

"We, The People": Unburdened by the compromising calculations of re-election, President Barack Obama, in his second inaugural address, challenged his fellow American's to fully realise the clear democratic purpose of those first three words of the United States' Constitution.
 
“WHY DON’T you guys do something?” Those were the words that sparked the Gay Liberation Movement.
 
It was the summer of 1969 and in New York City’s Greenwich Village there was, to quote Bob Dylan, “music in the caf├ęs at night and revolution in the air”. When the New York Police Department raided the mafia-owned Stonewall Inn, a favourite haunt of the Village’s gay community, on Saturday 28 June, trouble was not expected – and yet, trouble came.
 
A young lesbian woman, beaten and manhandled by the NYPD’s finest, challenged the swelling crowd of gay street kids and transvestites to “do something” and all their pent-up frustration and rage at the petty humiliations routinely inflicted by the authorities spontaneously erupted into a series of riotous protests that were not finally brought under control until nearly 72 hours later.
 
It is a measure of the sea-change in American politics that, on Tuesday morning, the re-elected President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, included the Stonewall Riots among the seminal moments in the history of the struggle for gender, racial and sexual equality in America.
 
To the nearly one million people gathered in the Washington Mall to witness the second inauguration of America’s first black president, Mr Obama declared:
 
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
 
Many gay Americans must have wondered if their ears deceived them. Could their President really be saying that the Stonewall riots belonged alongside the world’s first women’s convention, held in the little upstate New York town of Seneca Falls on 19-20 July 1848? The gathering which gave the world a ‘Declaration of Sentiments’ signalling the birth of Feminism and the long struggle for women’s rights? Yes he was. Nor were the billy-clubs that battered the patrons of the Stonewall Inn to be in any way distinguished from the billy-clubs that battered Dr Martin Luther King and the hundreds of black civil-rights marchers he led into Selma, Alabama, on 7 March 1965. They were all instruments of oppression: instruments to be overcome.
 
Could the man standing on the Capitol steps really have said such things? Yes he could. And he said more – much more:
 
“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
 
"Why Don't You Guys Do Something?" The gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn confront the New York City Police. Greenwich Village, NY, NY. Saturday, 28 June 1969.
 
In the same week that the head of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Garth McVicar, asserted that Gay Marriage would lead to an increase in New Zealand’s crime-rate, President Obama’s words are not only timely, but inspirational.
 
They give notice to all those who, like Mr McVicar, regard the great struggles for human equality and freedom not as markers of humanity’s progress towards the unconditional love Christ commanded, but as harbingers of Western Society’s imminent collapse, that the crippling social conservatism of the past thirty years is at an end.
 
The “Rainbow Coalition” that Mr Obama has woven out of Blacks, Hispanics, Working Women, Trade Unionists, Gays and Youth: those Americans whom the Republican Right has worked so hard to marginalise and exclude; now have a President who is not only ready but eager to imbue those first three words of the United States’ Constitution – “We, the People” – with all the democratic purpose America’s Founding Fathers intended.
 
Radio New Zealand–National’s Morning Report characterised President Obama’s second inaugural address as a call for unity in a bitterly divided America. It is far from being that. In his own way, President Obama is also asking: “Why don’t you guys do something?”
 
The American Revolution, begun in “a spare Philadelphia hall”, continues.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 January 2013.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Like many people I was disappointed with Obama’s softly-softly, don’t-frighten-the-horses approach to the job in his first term. Now the wisdom of his tactics is clear – he was ‘safe’ enough to be given a second term.
Yesterday I read his inauguration speech with mounting excitement, as he revealed his true vision in inspiring words. It’s going to be an interesting four years.

Anonymous said...

Obama - socially liberal, fiscally conservative - don't hold y'breath.

Brendan said...

Chris

While happy to be called a 'conservative' I don't know anyone, myself included, who would support the recent comments made by Garth McVicker regarding the gay marriage. That said, it seems the proponents of the bill care more about their own 'rights' than the birth right of a child to be raised by both a mother and a father.

I was interested to see you align the actions of the 'progressive' movement with a supposed march by humanity towards the 'unconditional love of Christ'. While it is a somewhat specious link, I think you may also have conflated Christ's unconditional love with unconditional approval. The are not the same thing.

Frankie Lee said...

Four more years of platitudes and social engineering.....can't wait.

And in the meantime that 16 trillion dollar debt will just get bigger, but thats OK , gay marriage is obviously a MUCH more pressing issue!

The Flying Tortoise said...

Oh that New Zealand had an inspirational leader instead of a financial jerk who's use by date has long expired

Anonymous said...

Funny how christians feel they can discriminate against people, and it's OK - because their sky pixie approves.

Anonymous said...

As one Englishman put it, it's not a problem if you don't make it a problem. Homosexuality is now forced in our faces much more than is due a 30's novel. It's beginning to piss me off. I feel sorry for the young brothers growing up now. And I'm not looking forward to the backlash.

Anonymous said...

"Forced in our faces" how is it forced in our faces any more than heterosexuality? Or religion? This is a typical discriminator as victim statement. No one forces you to have anything to do with homosexuality.

bill said...

Obama is one of the feel good heads of the U$ Two Headed One Party State. A state run for the rich by the rich. He perpetuates the American hologram of delusion.An accurate understanding of the U$ can be had from this website: "The U.S. Has An Even Larger Gap Between The Rich And The Poor Than Downton Abbey Does" http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/ There is no hope coming from that decaying NeoLiberal Edifice of a once optimistic and fairly equal former Nation.

Jigsaw said...

"Mounting excitement" - I'm afraid you are doomed to disappointment, Obama has little idea of what to do and even less ability to do anything much. He constantly talks about compromise but has shown zero ability to reach out to the opposition. He is an empty vessel so that all we will hear in the next four years is words and the economy will spiral downwards.

Anonymous said...

Reach out??? I think the blame lies with the other side. Not that I have any great regard for Obama's business friendliness etc., but let's be fair, the Republicans are barking mad.

Spiffles said...

Bam-Bam can't really do much, he's just a very powerful figurehead. Has to do what he is told.

The problems that the US has run too deep now and whatever is done the next two or more generations will feel the pinch. Two disasterous wars and a financial crunch that has hit all but the very rich has taken a dive.

Gaetano said...

I just watched the speech on You Tube last night. It was very inspirational and I thought how sad that in four years Obama will be gone - the chances of having another president with that level of rhetorical skills must be very low. It's easy to be cynical but there are moments when it's good to focus on ideals.

Gaetano said...

PS Just read an excellent interview with BO at The New Republic which gives a very good insight into his thinking -www.newrepublic.com

Jigsaw said...

Hardly fair to call the entire opposition party 'barking mad'-or logical in any way. Politics is the art of compromise. Obama wants to increase taxes but not to cut spending at all, not on the most useless project the governement is running. Hardly surprising then that the Republicans don't agree. I realise that you wouldn't really gather this from our hopeless media but there is another side to every disagreement.

Anonymous said...

Jigsaw you really must read more widely. There are even moderate Reps. who think it's their fault. Even the Economist thinks so. It's hardli a communist rag.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/06/debt-ceiling-debate

Jigsaw said...

Just being patronizing isn't really any argument at all Anonymous. In fact it demonstrates a lack of arguments. You have no idea what I read or I you. Fact is that Obama had majorities in both houses for 2 years and did little. Now he must compromise and acknowledge that the opposition has some points or face the fact that he will have done little of any real worth in his presidency.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't being patronising I was taking the piss, because you always say your piece as if it comes from god. Agree he's done nothing though.

Jigsaw said...

I'm sorry if what I write comes across as being from a deity - not my intention just the way I write I guess. For our sake, if for no other reason, I hope that Obama does succeed especially economically, its just that I see little likelyhood of that based on past experience.
He just hasn't got it.

Anonymous said...

Well, something we can agree on. Yes Obama is far too locked in to that austerity bullshit.