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Inauguration Day 2009

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Today Barack Obama will become our president.  His inauguration ends the long nightmare of the past eight years and leads us to a new era of self-government.

The excitement across the land is most apparent, especially as yesterday’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day serendipitously stood adjacent to the inauguration of America’s first Black president. 

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The meaning of Obama’s ascension to the presidency goes far beyond race, but let me talk about race first.

We have a very bad history with race starting with the importation of Black slaves to do the dirty work of building our country.  To own men and women and to treat them like animals was morally wrong.  To pull them from their families, their lands and all they knew was to rip history and place from them, two essential elements of a people’s sense of self.  The disorientation and grief of those acts affected a whole people down through ages until the mid-1800’s when Black leaders like Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth emerged to cut the chains of slavery.  These leaders inspired others like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois in the early 1900s to raise up the social and economic station of Blacks until Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X called on Blacks in the mid-1900s to advance further by pursuing political leadership, voting rights, education, the elimination of Jim Crow laws, jobs with equal pay for equal work.  From the efforts of all these people, we come today to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Today is a significant day for all Americans—Black and white—as we celebrate the “miracle” that happened in November with the election of Barack Obama.  It came after eight years of enduring a man who half the country felt was illegitimately selected—twice.  It came after a man who presided over the worst terrorist attack in our history and used fear and manipulation as weapons against his own people.  He nearly scuttled our civil liberties and our Constitution, he got us into two unnecessary wars, a tremendous national debt and he leaves office with the worst economic situation since the 1930s Depression.  Worse yet, this man never acknowledged nor did he ever dream he had this effect on the country as evidence by his last press conference and farewell speech. 

This man has left the world in distress, too, because he opted for macho toughness rather than leadership.  As a result, we have been delayed eight more years to tackle global warming, to acknowledge resource depletion and the end of cheap energy, to see the degradation of our jobs, our cities, our educational system, our health care system and our national spirit.  Instead, he focused on his power, his vacations, his trail bike and his legacy.  He risked and tarnished our country’s reputation and he leaves office as a shame and disgrace both to his family and to his country. 

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Barack Obama represents a new kind of leader.  He is self-possessed, reflective, intelligent, able to inspire others.  He is trusted by the vast majority of Americans and by people all over the world.  Many believe he will tackle problems that have festered for many years and caused the people to grow cynical about their role in shaping government and its policies.  However, we must acknowledge that our problems with government started with ourselves when we allowed our leaders to run government for us.  We should not be surprised, then, that they caved to moneyed interests, helped destroy the middle class, sent our children into endless wars against invisible enemies and now leave a greater national debt for generations to come.  We allowed ourselves to be fooled into “free market capitalism” by our own greed that Ronald Reagan tapped into 30 years ago and which ended in the Bush era as the rapacious, foolish, debilitating policy that it always was.

Now Barack Obama comes forth to begin a new era—and we can all be happy that we helped to elect him.  He will grow into the job and the era will define him, and he is undoubtedly the right man at the right time.  He will know what to do and how to react.  He will be a leader, not a bully, through thoughtful reflection, consultation and action instead of reaction.  He will ask us to make sacrifices and we will comply willingly because he will have explained the problem, the consequences and the long-term benefits of such actions.  He will move us to go beyond ourselves, to help others because we will understand that by doing so, we will help all citizens and ourselves, too, in re-creating a just and fair and equitable society.  He will lead by example instead of by words and oratory.  He has already done so and has made great strides in uniting us as well.  He will not rule out of fear and dread but out of forthrightness, quiet strength, self-assuredness and confidence in us, the American people.

As a country we have been fortunate to find the leader we needed in a crisis.  Over the past eight years I thought God’s blessings had run their course.  With President Obama, I believe we have been given another chance.  I pray we take it, embrace it, and use it not only to bring up ourselves but to go back to being a beacon for truth, justice and generosity for ourselves and the world that we are meant to be.

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Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)

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