Prediction has become reality
Jan. 22, 2009
Those who grew up in the '60s said an extra "Amen" this week as Barack Obama became the president of the United States. Most everyone appreciates the history of inaugurating the first African-American president. Most everyone understands the economic and environmental fix we're in, not only America but also the whole world.
I don't know if everyone appreciates that the ideas Obama espouses about inclusiveness and tolerance, about being a nation the rest of the world looks to for leadership because we stand for human rights and not because we are feared, are ideas that sounded rebellious in the 1960s. They belonged to the civil rights movement and to the consciousness-raising movement that caught up young people of all races. They confronted the rationale for the Vietnam War, questioned authority unaccustomed to being questioned and paid for it at Kent State and at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, terrified their parents by experimenting with marijuana and mind-altering drugs, and explored the idea that love is always an answer.
The poem Elizabeth Alexander recited at the inauguration expresses this: "Some live by 'Love thy neighbor as thy self.'/Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need./What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to pre-empt grievance."
Barack Obama was born in the 1960s, into the legacy of the '60s. At various times over the past 30 years, those ideals have been held hostage by antagonistic beliefs, like the fear that doing well and doing good are incompatible. They can't be.
Friends celebrated Obama's inauguration with a ball-watching party Tuesday night. There was pizza and a champagne toast to a renewed America. I'm certain it's an America most of the rest of the world looks on with more respect because we elected such a man.
University students might be less excited about this sea change than grandparents and parents brought up with segregation and de facto segregation. Tuesday I asked my feature writing class if everyone watched the inauguration that morning. Only a few students raised their hands.
I was just telling them that being curious and observant are two of the most important attributes of a good writer and reporter. We'll have to work on that. Maybe Millenials just don't do anything in real time anymore. They catch up on YouTube.
Listening to Obama's speech and its echoes of his campaign promises of overdue change, I thought of the R&B singer Sam Cooke's song "A Change is Gonna Come." It was recorded in 1963, when civil rights for all was still barely a dream, and became an anthem for the movement. "It's been a long time coming," he sang, almost mournfully, "but I know a change is gonna come."
The joy in the faces of 1.5 million witnesses crammed onto the National Mall on Tuesday made obvious that Cooke's song is no longer a prediction. That change has come.
Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.