Inauguration Jubilee: Sunday


Pete Seeger, his voice  thinned by the years,  sings  old labor and unity anthems shoulder-to-shoulder with  The Boss.

Through the Vietnam War and the crushing of the labor unions, we sang with outrage, defiance and by the skin of our teeth.  Through the last thirty years, we’ve  sung to each other of Joe Hill,  Matewan, endless war  and  the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.    Even when we doubted, we pledged in small groups to join hands and overcome.  (Letter from the Birmingham Jail:   http://www.bu.edu/irsd/Ec326_2004/material_2004/Letter%20from%20Birmingham%20Jail.htm

In one moment during the Democratic Primary Debates,  Obama and Clinton showed us the fundamental difference between them.   The moment  received little subsequent coverage and  came in  response to a question from Kim Millman of  Burnsville, Minnesota:  “…there’s been no acknowledgement by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of immigration on the African-American community.  How do you propose to address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant labor?”

Obama replied with full understanding of how business and economic downturns have conspired to divide workers along racial, ethnic  and gender  lines  into weakened factions.  He encouraged workers to organize around their commonly-held kitchen table issues.  He reminded  us that all American workers are under siege and that we need each other.    His response educated workers for their own organizing good.

Clinton’s response acknowledged  that business scavenges  for low-cost workers and drives down compensation, but many of her words were vested in  the manufactured divide  between African Americans and “immigrant”  workers.   (The transcript of the debate is available here:  http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/31/dem.debate.transcript/index.html

This inauguration, we sing,  “This land is our land,”  with tears streaming.    We dare  to believe  we can re-create  a  “government  of the people, by the people and for the people.”

In  music and poetry we hear  a few of   the stories we didn’t learn  in school.  Queen Latifah takes  the  stage —  tall, certain and strong — to tell  us of  the day Marian Anderson and   Eleanor Roosevelt  faced down The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).   I give thanks to my mother and grandfather  for telling me the story  of  those two astonishing women.  There are so many clues in our history that show us how to avoid the mistakes that have separated us one from another.  (Here’s  the story of Marian and Eleanor.  It includes  The  First Lady’s letter of resignation from  the DAR: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/eleanor.html

More than any other reason,  I thank the fates for Obama  this Inauguration weekend  because I remember how migrant farm workers were threatened with lynching in the town where I grew up.  I remember the faces of my schoolmates when we hid beneath our desks  in  fear of a  US-USSR nuclear war.    I am thankful,  while a ceasefire exists between Israel and Gaza,   that  our next  President  has an ingrained understanding  that we live or die together.

For years,  the picture of Eleanor climbing out of the coal mine hung over my bed.  (I was an atheist  who adored my spiritual icons.)  Her face was dirty and the miner’s lamp she wore hung low over her forehead and crushed her  hairdo.  She was looking up at the miners who were waiting to pull her out of the hole and into the light.  I haven’t located that particular photo but this  link  shows her entering the depths of  the Willow Grove Mine  in a mining car:  http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/4478/grove.htm

Today,  the media speaks in breathless tones about the gown Michelle will wear tomorrow.   CNN is all a-twitter speculating on the designer’s identity and how many pairs of shoes  The First Lady will need  to survive the Inaugural festivities.

We  need bread and circuses, I suppose; but we also need to see  honest images of cashiers, neighbors, truck drivers, friends  and  autoworkers as they wait  in line this winter day at  their local food pantries.

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