Reactions to the Inauguration

This page has three reactions to the inauguration of Barack Obama. The first is a heartful description of a gathering on Whidbey Island written by a friend and colleague, Stephan Schwartz. The second is by Garrison Keillor and has his signature touch of good humor. Third is a deeply thoughtful report by Tikkun's Rabbi Michael Lerner, which congratulates, but notes as well how much remains to be done after the joy settles. He says Obama can rise to the ideals of his campaign and our longing only as high as we lift him. We all know that, and must work to remember it and act.

Dancing on Whidbey

By Stephan A. Schwartz, Editor - The Schwartzreport

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When I arrive, Freeland Hall at the South end of Whidbey Island, which lies a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle, is already packed. It is a big Northwestern wooden hall, one huge room with some satellite spaces. People are spilling out of doors, and their happy sound is shaped into ethereal waves of laughter by the mist that hangs in the trees of deep green surrounding the building. The light is diffused, its nimbus hangs in the air with the fog.

The heat of many bodies welcomes me like a cub to the den, as I enter. Even before the faces come into focus, the wild array of clothes registers. If formal- a man in a Fraser plaid dinner jacket - the intent is clearly ironic, if relaxed, whimsical.

The Eagles are on offer, and at the back of the stage, while their music drives the dancing, a projection of the inauguration plays, filling a wall, without sound. Periodically, like a ripple in a pond disturbed, hands fly up and cheering begins. It is clear everyone has already seen today's events, and the cheers are for favorite moments, as they scroll across the giant screen. As I stand there watching Obama address the military ball, I am struck by how much he is enjoying what he is doing, and how conscious he is of the historicity of his every action. He is flawlessly tailored, and as he ends his impromptu talk with a self-deprecating smile, he walks over and begins to dance with his wife in her white gown. It is easy to see they both understand the same thing.

As their dancing begins more people throughout the hall join in and also begin to dance. Children mimic their elders, the energy in the room is so strong in pulsates, nearly visible. Standing to the side watching it comes to me again, as it had a few nights earlier, when I had gone to the old-fashioned movie house, how little obesity there is in this community, and how vital are those over 60.

A beautiful woman in a sort of flamenco outfit climbs to the stage and begins to dance, her shadow playing across the Obamas in their embrace. She is alone at first and then, children come up and join her, as does a man dressed as Uncle Sam. The video moves on and reaches another favorite moment. Arms go up and cheers arise. An almost entirely white audience pledging their support to a young black man. Then in one of those tricks your heart plays I am back at a dance in the early 1960s, in a barn somewhere south of Richmond, dancing with a racially mixed crowd of people mostly in our early twenties. Tomorrow we are going to demonstrate on behalf of civil rights, and we have been told violence is a possibility. It's a scary idea, everyone knows the stories. I see now the dance was our way of being brave. Returning emotionally to Whidbey as the music shifts it occurs to me that many of the people in Freeland Hall, were probably at other such gatherings back then, and I let the realization wash over me that we are celebrating not just Obama's election; we are also celebrating our success. And, beneath that there is the release of long pent up energy dedicated to change, and the amelioration of the sense of embarrassment and, let's be honest, on occasion, such as the release of those pictures of Abu Grib, our shame.

I do not remember even the Kennedy inauguration holding this promise. Perhaps because Kennedy inherited command of an America ready for change but in pretty good shape for all of that. The commitment I see in this hall tonight is that in spite of the problems America will come back. We will return to values the Founders would recognize, and applaud. There is no other country in the world where this could be happening. A Jamaican born black Prime minister. Impossible to imagine. A Turkish Chancellor of Germany. Unlikely. An Alegerian President of France. Improbable. Yet there are Michelle and Barack Obama like movie stars from the 30s dancing on the screen, avidly supported not only by the dancers in Freeland Hall, but by people of all colors, creeds, and ethnicities across the land. Suddenly, I am proud to be an American again, and I will never forget dancing in Whidbey, on the 20th of January 2009.

A New America Emerging

By Garrison Keillor

Jan. 21, 2009

One simply wanted to be present. Freezing cold or not, a crowd of 2 million, whatever -- solemn warnings about tight security, long lines, traffic jams, cellphones not working. In the end, one wanted to be there on the Mall before the Capitol on Tuesday at noon amid the jubilant throng and see the man take the oath of office -- our first genuine Author-President.

So I hitchhiked a ride in the middle of the night on a jet heading to Baltimore and got to the train station at 5 a.m. and already the platform was packed. A lot of black people in parkas and scarves and mittens. It was like "The Apollo Goes to the Arctic." There were Obama stocking caps, ski caps, skullcaps and pins with the first family on them, and everyone was beaming, and nobody complained about how cold it was or having to wait in line.

People were being marshaled into waiting areas for each train to D.C., each of us with a Commemorative Train Ticket with a picture of Himself on it -- and the marshals, who wore yellow vests, were insistent on us Staying In Our Place, but I just boarded the first train that came through and nobody ever checked my ticket. Big rules, no enforcement.

I rode with a group of black women who had left Portsmouth, Va., at 1 a.m. to be sure to be there on time. They were heavily bundled and so excited they could hardly speak. And then when the conductor called out "Union Station, Washington," one of them looked at the others and she burst into tears. And they all cried. I would have, too, if they'd looked at me.

Long lines at Union Station for coffee and restrooms, but everyone was in such a fine mood that waiting was painless, and the same was true of the line to go through security and be scanned and get onto the Capitol grounds. The line was six blocks long, the longest line I have ever stood in, but there is nothing so pleasant as being in a crowd of happy people when you are happy about the same thing they're happy about. Up above, cops with automatic rifles on parapets and walkways, and down below the mob milled along Louisiana Avenue and the line inched forward and the good will radiated up from the crowd just like in Grant Park on Election Night.

It was more than Democrats feeling their oats or African-Americans celebrating the unimaginable, more than revulsion at the gang of bullheads who held power for too long. It was a huge gasp of pleasure at a new America emerging, a country we all tried to believe in, a nation that is curious and venturesome, more openhearted and public-spirited.

All kinds of people, the slim and sleek, the XXXLs, the heavily insulated, the carefree, and we moved through ranks of souvenir sellers -- whatever else he may accomplish, Obama has been a boon to the pin and T-shirt trade -- and in our slow trek toward the Capitol, one felt the enormity of the day for the black people around us. I wouldn't try to express, I simply was grateful to be among it. Old ladies with sore feet hauled themselves along.

The crowd down below the podium had their opinions. There was a profound silence when Mrs. Bush was announced and walked out. People watched the big screen and when Mrs. Obama appeared, there was a roar, and when the Current Occupant and Mr. Cheney came out of the Capitol, a low and heartfelt rumble of booing. Dignified booing. Old black ladies around me tried to shush them -- "Don't do that!" they hissed -- but it's a democracy, and how will those men know how we feel if we don't tell them?

The band tootled on and there were shouts of "O-ba-ma" and also "Yes we can" (and also "Down in front") and then he came out and the place went up. That was the first big moment. The second was when he took the oath and said, "So help me, God" and the cannons boomed and you got a big lump in your throat. And the third was afterward.

The invocation was extensive and segued into the Lord's Prayer, and the music was OK if you like Aaron Copland, and the inaugural speech was good enough, calling on us all to great deeds and sacrifice, details to be announced later. You could hear each oratorical phrase repeated over and over in the series of loudspeakers down the Mall and bouncing off stone facades, a sort of cubist effect. The inaugural poet followed, a sort of filler, with a long windup, a few good phrases in the middle ("someone is trying to make music somewhere ... a teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin'"), and then it trailed off into some misty thoughts about love. And then a big horn blast of a benediction.

But the great moment came later, as the mob flowed slowly across the grounds. I heard loud cheers behind me and there on the giant screen was the Former Occupant and Mrs. Bush saying goodbye to the Obamas in the parking lot behind the Capitol, the Marine helicopter behind them.

The crowd stopped and stared, a little stunned at the reality of it.

They saw it on a screen in front of the Capitol and it was actually happening on the other side. The Bushes went up the stairs, turned, waved and disappeared into the cabin, and people started to cheer in earnest. When the blades started turning, the cheering got louder, and when the chopper lifted up above the Capitol and we saw it in the sky heading for the airport, a million jubilant people waved and hollered for all they were worth. It was the most genuine, spontaneous, universal moment of the day. It was like watching the ice go out on the river.

(Garrison Keillor is the author of a new Lake Wobegon novel, "Liberty," published by Viking.)

© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Rabbi Lerner's Report on the Inauguration Experience in D.C.

Posted Sunday, January 25 2009 @ 02:18 AM PST on the Tikkun website.

It was amazing.

Rabbi Lerner at the Inauguration

I wish my father and mother had been alive to experience the joy and incredible relief that went through our country as Barack Obama took the oath of office. I wanted to be able to say to them,"It will be alright now, things will never be as bad again as they have been in our country after forty years of imperialist war, undermining of civil liberties, the penetration of me-firstism and materialism and selfishness into the very marrows of the bones of our citizens, the corporate media that bought the lies of the Republicans while scrutinizing with cynicism the hopes of the Democrats, the escalating destruction of the life-support systems of our planet, and the withdrawal of good people into their own private lives as they despaired about the possibilities of social change or healing our wounded society." But with my father's death in November, so many years after my mother had passed, it was no longer possible to take care of my parents.

So my wife Debora and I went to Washington to taste the experience, to be part of it, to celebrate and to reassure ourselves that it was really happening.

And it was a great celebration. On Monday evening the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) joined many other religious communities at All Souls Church for an evening of prayer and talks by some of the people (many of them Tikkun authors) who I've come to love in the past decades. My friend Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Mark Johnson of the Fellowship of Reconciliation had worked on the details of the program, and had put together a remarkable crew of speakers that gave living proof that spiritual/religious progressives remain a vibrant and creative force.

There was deep appreciation expressed to me, and through me to you, for the full page ad that had appeared a few days before in the New York Times sponsored by Tikkun and the NSP and calling not only for an immediate cease fire in Gaza and asking Obama to call for an international conference to resolve the larger Israel/Palestine issues. I learned that day that the ad (together with the brief story about it that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz) had actually caused a flurry of interest inside the Obama circle, had been the subject of discussions at the highest levels, and had succeeded in upping the pressure on Israel, already considerable, for a pre-inauguration cease fire which Israel had indeed proclaimed and to which Hamas had quickly (though indirectly, since Israel still refuses to talk to them directly) acquiesced. So it was wonderful to hear from people from many diverse backgrounds the congratulations for the ad, which for most people was the only public (outside of cyberspace petitions) statement that they had seen of people who were countering the narrow media framing of the issues (who started or who was most responsible for the current round of violence?) and insisting on using this moment to call for a serious attempt to solve the larger Israel/Palestine conflict which would certainly flare up in violence again or else revert to the daily and largely hidden violence of the Occupation. I wanted you to know how much appreciation was experessed through me to you for making that ad possible -- not only by many Arabs and Muslims and progressive Jews whose voices have otherwise been ignored by the media, but also by many Christian Americans who have felt horrible to watch as their fellow Americans seemed to line up behind the brutality being inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Many people noted with deep appreciation the fact that our ad had not engaged in blaming, but only in putting out a forward-looking strategy for how to end the conflict. I don't think I would have known how grateful people were for this ad had I not been in D.C. -- because people who tend to write to us usually do so only when they have a complaint).

Later that night we went to a dinner-party sponsored by Tikkun publishers Trish and George Vradenburg, a fund-raising event in which people had paid lots of money to support a feeding-the-homeless program in D.C. It was one of many such parties taking place that evening in response to Obama's call for all Americans to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday that day by engaging in some kind of service-to-others. It was quite touching to see these people gathered to do their part and generously care for the hungry.

We had tickets and good seats for the Inauguration and were surrounded by two million people, many of them as excited as we to be tere. There was much to be appreciated in Obama's Inaugural Speech. After 8 years of systematic undermining of the basic civil liberties and human rights that the American revolution had sought to guarantee against the tyranny of another George (III), the reaffirmation of the Constitutional tradition felt like a major accomplishment. That that was followed up in subsequent days by a set of Presidential directives insisting upon transparency in the Obama Administration, forbidding the CIA and others from using torture, setting the path toward closing Guantanamo's torture house, lifting the ban on discussion of birth control for US funded health care projects, made me feel so elated that I nearly forgot that these accomplishments were really only a return to that which Americans had fought for 240 years ago.

And there were many other good aspects of Obama's speech. For the first time ever, a President acknowledged that we are a country of "Christian and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers." This was an important formulation, both in affirming Muslims, who have been subject to harassment ever since 9/11, but also and equally important in affirming the legitimacy of non-believers. Our Network of Spiritual Progressives has gone out of its way to affirm "spiritual but NOT religious" people as being equally welcome. We believe that one of the perversions of religion occurs when it defacto becomes part of what is required of citizens -- it's bad for the society and its bad for religions which then get filled up with people who are there more out of civic obligation or political opportunism than out of spiritual encounter with the mystery and magnificence of all that is.

Finally, there was in this speech a reaffirmation of the importance of judging outcomes in term of "the common good." However little he failed to explain what it would mean to really consider that seriously, articulating the notion of "the common good" could provide a leverage for future policy directions.

I wished that Barack Obama had spent some time acknowledging the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement that had made his candidacy possible in the first place, rather than using the occasion to insist that "we will not apologize for our way of life" ( why not? a way of life in which the U.S. with 5% of the world's population consumes 25% of the world's resources and produces a majority of the world's weapons and is responsible for a war in Iraq that has caused the death of hundreds of thousands and the wounding/maiming of millions plus 3 million refugees -- there is plenty to apologize for). I wished he had used the occasion to question the wisdom of an economic system that rewards selfishness and materialism rather than, as he did, merely mention that there was a problem about greed and irresponsibility that had weakened our economy and then hasten to add that it was really "our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age" (I couldn't help wondering how anyone I knew had participated in this collective failure). I wish he had not committed himself to "forging a hard earned peace in Afghanistan" since that can only be a way of saying that he really intends to escalate the war there (despite the many who had assumed that he was just talking about Afghanistan during the campaign as a way of sounding tough to win votes, hopeful that he would not commit new troops to a guerilla war that could not be won). I wished that when talking about the sacrifices made by people in the past so that we could have the America of the present he had not listed, along with those who had immigrated here, and "toiled in sweatshops and settled the West" those who "endured the lash of the whip" as though that too had been a voluntary sacrifice when in fact it was a manifestation of an as-yet-unrepented-for system of slavery for which we should be talking about reparations to those who still suffer from its consequences; nor should he have listed the dead of Khe Sanh along with the dead of "places like Concord and Gettysburg; andNormandy" since the dead of the Vietnam War were slaughtered not for the sake of our ideals but because of the immorality of our imperialist policies. And oh, how I wished he had used this occasion to teach Americans about our need to recreate our society and build communities based on a new ethos of love and generosity, kindness and compassion, ethical and ecological sensitivity--and that these should be the criteria used when assessing any governmental policy or the performance of our economic and political systems, our educational system, our health care system, our laws and our daily human relations.

I hope that years from now, looking backward, I'll be able to say that these were minor quibbles, that Obama was deciding not to use this moment to educate but to reassure Americans that he was not to be feared but to be supported, and that his subsequent policies achieved in practice the transformation of consciousness that could have begun at this moment.

The ceremony itself seemed a bit stiff (it was no pleasure to see Senator Diane Feinstein chairing the event -- the memory of her congratulating Bush for his fine accomplishment of "shock and awe" after the first night of the Iraq war and her vote to support Bush appointees to the Supreme Court and for Attorneys General reminded me how slippery the category "moderate Democrat" has become in the past forty years and sounded the alarm for me when I heard that Gov. Patterson has chosen a "moderate Democrat" to replace in the U.S. Senate Hillary Clinton while the impeached governor of Illinois had chosen a "moderate Democrat" to replace in the U.S. Senate Barack Obama from Illinois).

I wasn't moved by the poetry or by the music, and would have preferred if at least at one point the crowd had been asked to stand and sing "We Shall Overcome" or "Imagine" or in some other way been given a chance to acknowledge that the cultural milieu was not being set by homophobic pastor Rick Warren's recitation of The Lord's Prayer (something that we Jews,and many of our non-Jewish civil libertarian allies, had fought to get out of the public sphere in the 1950s when it was imposed upon us in public schools as a daily requirement until the Warren Court had rightly ruled that this was not appropriate for our collective public space). Mostly, people around us were rolling their eyes, not wanting to get upset about Warren or why Obama had chosen him to speak. And he would later be balanced by Joseph Lowery whose civil rights years flowed through his fiery talk.

The details of the speech and the culture of the event were mostly overshadowed by the fact standing before us -- An African American man in a country that had for hundreds of years enslaved, murdered, raped and exploited African Americans. For me, as for so many around me, that single fact overwhelmed us. I had given up my path to a comfortable career in the 1960s by engaging in civil disobedience that had led to my arrest and imprisonment. I, like millions of others like me, had been filled with rage at the oppression of Blacks, and had put my body and my life on the line to stop it. I had met with Martin Luther King, Jr. to encourage him to run for President. I had worked with the Black Panther Party in an attempt to form an alliance in which whites and Blacks could struggle together for a change in the defacto segregation and economic exploitation that persisted even after Civil Rights legislation had passed. I had later written a book with African American intellectual Cornel West called Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin (Putnam, 1995) and we had traveled around the U.S. in our attempt to model the healing we sought. So, yes, tears welled up in my eyes and prayers of thanksgiving to the God of the universe at this most moving moment when suddenly it seemed as if decades of effort had not been in vain.

I don't know who Barack Obama will turn out to be as President. Will he be the Obama who asked to speak at our Tikkun conference in Chicago in 1996 and who assured me that he embraced the politics of meaning that we were then calling our spiritual progressive worldview and the Obama who, when we spent time with each other in 2006, assured me that he was reading my book The Left Hand of God. the young Senator who assured me that we shared much in our worldviews? I can't be sure. But that there is even such a possibility gives me great hope. And yet, as I stated in the Jan/Feb 2009 editorial inTikkun, who he will be depends in part on who we will be -- whether we can create a powerful voice to support Obama to be the best possible Obama he could be, or whether the forces of fear will reassert themselves so powerfully that the message of loving community and generosity will seem too utopian to Obama to fight for them. I hope you'll re-read that editorial (it's at

In any event, back to Washington, D.C. where my wife and I then spent the next four hours after the inauguration walking in freezing weather because we could not get a cab nor find a way to get through the hundreds of thousands of people flooding the subway system. And…we survived. We managed to change our clothes and make it to the inaugural Peace Ball put on by Andy Shallal for progressives. a spirit-lifting event that was all the things that we had hoped for: Joan Baez singing Imagine, Harry Belafonte, Holly Near, and two floors of elegance at the National Postal Museum filled with people who have been giving their life energies to the movements for social change. And almost every few minutes we'd be stopped by people who wanted to thank us for what Tikkun, the Tikkun Community, and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have been doing these many years.

Everyone in that room knew that our work is still ahead of us, that the outcome of the years ahead is not predetermined, that Obama is not our savior and he is not even a man blessed with the vision and courage of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Gandhi. He is a politician, and a good one, and he can do a lot of good, and a lot more good if we can find the right ways to support what is best in him. But for an evening, and perhaps for many of us for longer than that, we allowed ourselves to just enjoy and celebrate the victory that we had won.

And the joy and hope of these moments remains with me to this moment.

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