Inaugural High

At President Obama’s Inaugural, I was sitting in a section relatively close to the dais. We had arrived at 4:45 a.m. to secure our seats. Most in our group were African American and had braved the cold to witness history. Few of us would be there if it weren’t for Barack Obama.

He has given small newspapers like mine unheard of access that neither Clinton or Bush would have granted, and Obama’s election and reelection have given African Americans, if nothing else, emotional access to their government.

Today, I saw countless African American youth holding and waving American flags. Just like four years ago, African Americans and other people of color were reclaiming their government buildings, waiting in line to see the U.S. Capitol and other institutions.

In some ways, Obama’s speech was “Blacker” than any speech that he has given in a non-African American setting. He spoke with words and cadences that were eliciting call and response from members of my section.

He could speak confidently and forcefully in a way that suggested that he no longer has to worry about being labeled an “angry Black man.”

Republican efforts to subtly use the race card, whether in the guise of the Birthers or the tag of Socialist had failed. That is what I am most proud about: A significant segment of our country did not get suckered in by the race card like it had since 1968 when Richard Nixon first played it as a part of his Southern Strategy.

During parts of his speech, I am sure purposely, Barack Obama used a cadence and similar words to the phrases in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” that talked about Stone Mountain, inserting Detroit and Newtown instead to evoke the urgency with which his generation needs to deal with the issues facing it.

Barack Obama has been freed by being the first Democratic candidate to win a majority in both elections, free to pursue an agenda that includes immigration reform and LGBTQ rights. He is the first president in recent memory to speak about gun control. In some ways, Obama is more open and confident about his agenda.

Today was just as historic as four years ago when Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African American president.

Today, he was sworn in as the first African American two-term president. And while people were predicting that 800,000 would be there, I have to believe it was more like 1.2 million if 2009’s estimates of 1.8-2.0 million were accurate.

It seems to me that there were a lot more African American children here experiencing history for themselves this time around.

They came in busses from all over the country, people who rode overnight and made it to the National Mall in time for the swearing-in, just to be a part of history even if the actual act was almost a mile away.

People were so proud of their president. One t-shirt said, “Our President Is Black,” with the “l” in Black scribbled out to say, “Our President Is Back.” I could see the pride in the eyes of children and adults and we were all enjoying this moment together.

Barack Obama has laid out his vision for the next four years. The reelection and inauguration were the easy part in terms of getting crucial legislation through a Congress where a handful of Senators can delay action on bills and appointments and the House is effectively controlled by the Republican tea partiers, who are diametrically opposed to everything Obama laid out in his speech.

But at least for one day, I like our chances.

Jonathan Gramling is the editor of the Capital City Hues in Madison, Wisconsin.