Thirty-degree weather notwithstanding, a million people stood on the Mall in front of the Capitol to witness the swearing-in of Barack Obama for his second term as president.
Saying that he cannot do it alone, during his inauguration speech Obama deputized everyday people in America to engage in a permanent campaign to tackle issues such as poverty, health care, unemployment and environmental politics. Obama determined: “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time–not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”
From street-corner politickers to TV anchors to elected and professional talking heads and bloggers, each analyzed his entire speech, spoke on his last four years and predicted what his second term would/should or could bring. Folk in the middle stressed over the enormity of the task before him and wagered on the side of his doing magnificent things in spite of any unforeseen errors or manmade obstacles put forward by an openly hostile Republican Congress; while those on the far right and far left give him few or no breaks at all and point out glaring contradictions, from foreign policy to domestic.
The second Obama term is under way. Some say specific demands must be made; others question whether a general Black agenda might be the solution to getting needs met in the Black and Latino communities nationwide.
“President Obama has stated that he is a president for all Americans, not just for African-Americans,” said activist and writer April R. Silver of Akila Worksongs. “Even though we are a segment of the population that suffers disproportionately from several crises, we shouldn’t expect him to run interference for us. Regardless of who’s in office, it’s more important that we take responsibility for ourselves.
We’ll do better if we work together in our communities to solve our problems, using our time and resources to hold our local elected officials and organizers accountable. That’s where our power lies.”
But Inauguration Day was also King Day, the national holiday honoring the life, works and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The dual significance was not lost on passionate observers of history. A reader sent an email to the Amsterdam News saying, “Happy King Obama Day!” Boys and Girls High School was one of the many locations citywide paying homage to King, hosting a program discussing his legacy and screening a film on Birmingham’s Children’s Crusade march.
In a similar vein to what Obama said on Monday, decades ago it was King who said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Council Member Jumaane D. Williams spoke of the significance of Obama’s second inauguration taking place during the 27th celebration of King Day. He declared Monday, “Today is a momentous day in our country’s history, for we get to celebrate a legend of the Civil Rights Movement and a president who we have tasked with that legacy. As we take part in one of our nation’s greatest traditions, we look forward to the next four years and the progressive agenda that President Obama outlined for us on the Capitol. It is time to take on great challenges like climate change, equal pay for women and the pursuit of peace and justice with the same vigor that drove us to re-elect him. We are sending the president back to the White House just as we are committing ourselves to be active in the struggle for our country’s future.
“Struggle is something Dr. King knew very well, something that he lived. He fearlessly challenged the status quo, and while he was peaceful, he was not a pacifist. He understood that it takes agitation to combat injustice, something understood by those who carry his mantle today. From the immigrants on our southern border to the laborers across the Midwest, from the encampments of Occupy Wall Street to the streets of East Flatbush, that desire to agitate for a more equal society lives on and waits for more of us to join the cause,” Williams said, concluding with “Happy birthday, Dr. King. Godspeed, Mr. President.”
Speaking at the 17th annual Political Prisoner Tribute Dinner at the Martin Luther King Jr. (1199 SEIU) Labor Center, Iyaluua Ferguson told the Amsterdam News that Obama should acknowledge the sacrifice of incarcerated activists like Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“Several of the political prisoners changed the whole fabric and thinking in the United States,” explained the founder of the tribute dinner commemorating the families of U.S. political prisoners and leading member in the Jericho Movement. “The advancement of a little clique of Black people, culminating with a Black president of the United States being elected, is a tactic used in order to calm us down and keep us controlled,” he added. “President Obama cannot–and I know he does not–understand how much he owes to the Jalil Muntaqims, the Russell Shoats and Mumia Abu- Jamals of our land. Because they are the people who put fear into the hearts and minds of white folks. They have these Black people who have been employed to keep us in check, and keep us from the rebellion and revolution that they know should come from us.”
As the Obamas walked the parade route at Freedom Plaza, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu said in a statement, “It is with tremendous joy and sincere congratulations that I applaud President Barack Obama on his inauguration for a second term as president of the United States. On this historic day when we take time to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is fitting that we also pause to salute President Obama, who embodies so many of Dr. King’s hopes and dreams, as he embarks on his second term as president.”
“I would ask the president to ensure greater access to mental health services, so that problems can be identified and intervention can take place before it’s too late,” said Terrie M. Williams, mental health advocate and author of “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.”
Specifically, she said: “We must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services–a proper diagnosis should and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, with schools taking a particularly hard hit. Counselors are often the first on the chopping block during education budget cuts.
“Mental health services at our schools is crucial, as well as partnering with parents at the earliest stages. Early intervention is so important. Families, schools and mental health providers working together as a team is key.”
The Rev. Conrad B. Tillard did not go to Washington for the inauguration this year, but four years ago, he went with his entire family. “My pregnant wife was carrying our soon-to-be-born son, already named Barack,” he recalls. “Four years later, we still campaigned , canvassed, voted–three of my five children cast their first vote last year for a Black president–and preached his re-election.”
Tillard, who is the minister of Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ, told the Amsterdam News, “The question in 2013 is, how can we, Black America, win?”
He spent Inauguration Day at Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School, “talking about Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy,” he said. “All politics are local, and we have a myriad of problems on the local level in urban America, and so the symbolism of an inauguration means far less to me than four years ago. I’m more interested in the amelioration of poverty, violence, home foreclosures, educational challenges and justice on the local level, and that is where I [was] on Monday. We’ll be there in spirit, though!”