Inauguration Day, 2013

It is cold today in Minnesota–minus 10 on the thermometer on the backyard deck. Two thin-tailed squirrels shiver as they cram their mouths with sunflower seeds. All kinds of birds flock–blue jays dip into the heated bird bath, cardinals alight like rubies in the drooping needes of the white pine, and myriads of finches and nuthatches, chickadees and juncos, pigeons and sparrows select seeds from the ground or hanging feeders. More birds all at once than in milder weather–a feast for the eyes as I help them feast to survive the cold, cold night.

     It is a day for inaugurating a president, cold and windy even in Washington, D.C., yet a huge hoard has assembled to celebrate. I love the TV closeups of children with peaches and cream, chocolate cream or honey-colored complexions, laughing eyes and tiny American flags. Our capital is a city of mostly African-Americans, a fitting place for Barack H. Obama, our first African-American president, to be inaugurated into his second term.

     He is a rather formal man, though when he smiles, his face lights up. Yet, even then, there is nothing self-satisfied or teasing about him. He is a man familiar with struggle, even hardship. He emphathizes with those who struggle and with the wide-ranging challenges we must adddress. We, the people, he repeats again and again during his address. It is this appeal to our shared accomplishments and continued need to struggle that, I think, won him re-election

     I hadn’t planned to watch, yet now that the President and his lovely family are assembled, I begin weeping with pride. I take to heart his emphasis on democracy, on our past struggles: to abolish slavery, to assure civil rights to all. We have so much now before us, for as he says, our needs and challenges change, In clear and resounding language he identifies them.

     Most compelling are the perennial economic needs to retain what is strong in our entitlement programs, and rein in excess medical spending. To educate citizens for changing jobs and then provide those jobs. To recognize that we are all linked in a central government, yet not to ask that government to do everything.

     We must work for practical, sensible solutions, he says, even if partial. We must balance what we ask and what we as citizens can do on our own, in concert with neighbors, communities, businesses. We, the People–he calls on us to work great things. Passivity, he suggests, is as damaging as rigid adherence to narrow, ideological solutions. We must compromise. We must initiate.

     Finally, he sounds new notes: On climate change. Whether we agree or not, the evidence of climate change is all around us, in droughts, super storms, fires. We must prepare to meet these challenges and (I add) to mitigate what we can.

     On freedoms for all gay and lesbians to enjoy civil unions. On our right to vote swiftly without challenges. And on incouraging immigrants once again to come here and find acceptance, work, citizenship, and respect.

     A Mexican-American gay poet Jimmy Blanco reads a sweeping evocation of this broad land, with its changing landscape, language, histories, and work. Like the President’s speech, this was a very populist appeal. We, the Workers. We, the Immigrants. We, the People, entitled to protection and respect. 

     It is a day to feel proud that once again, We the People have helped inaugurate a hard-working, honest, sensible man, with a board vision, and yes, the ability to accomplish great things even if sometimes it seems the country falters, missteps, turns toward evil and destruction. This is a good time to hear from President Obama. In this cold season, We the People have time to think–about gun control and the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To plan how we can urge, inform, initiate political change. To remember that We the People means all of us doing what we can to conserve, reuse, protect our natural resources.

      It’s a heady challenge. A time to be proud of what we can accomplish together.

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