January 21 was a day that brought in strong winds to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. It also brought in a crowd of over a million people. All eagerly waiting to watch the inauguration of their newly reelected President Barack Obama and the reelected Vice-President Joe Biden. Patiently awaiting the poetry of the inaugural poet Richard Blanco, the national anthem performed by Beyoncé and the words of their leader.
All the while, I was sitting in my Terrorism class anxiously refreshing my browser to keep in time with the updates from Obama’s official twitter page. Seeing as he is the most followed political leader globally, with his 26.6 million, it makes him the fifth most followed person in the world. I’m sure I wasn’t the only reading his 140 character segments.
Yet, there’s been the idea floated around that as a Canadian, or as a British person, Chinese citizen, or say Kenyan, we don’t need to be preoccupied with the words of another nation’s elected official. This is simply not the case. The United States of America is currently the only global superpower, holding sway over the economy and even most of the global mindset. The words Obama spoke to the mass of Americans (and to the millions more listening) should be heard and respected around the world. The words don’t just matter to the fifty states, but to all the corners of the globe.
In his speech, Obama discussed many topics that have yet to be addressed publicly or targeted as a problem. Meaning, his four-year term could be a sign of social change, as much as the normal global development and economical fixing that is always discussed. Following is a breakdown of what Obama mentioned, what it means, and what it could mean for America and the world.
He started by mentioning that every time a president is inaugurated there is a reminder that what pulls the nation together is not, “the colour of our skin, or the tenets of our faith, or the origins of our names.” Obama says what brings them together is the idea imbedded and articulated in their declaration from two hundred years ago; that all men are created equal. But I really need to wonder the reality of that statement. Only forty-five years ago Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated for pushing for the equality of African-American’s in these same states the declaration spoke of. In 2001 after the attacks on New York City, it was seen in many people that a stereotype was placed on all of those of Islamic faith in general. Maybe after forty-five years, maybe after twelve, we can reach the time where America and the world will see everyone as created equal. But I don’t think we’re there yet.
Even in his speech, he states that, “while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing.” He follows by saying freedom is a gift of God. In my eyes, him even stating these as being a, “gift of God,” is a deterrent from progress. This is placing a religious label on an ideal of religious freedom, making me think we’re not quite there yet at all.
Obama then mentioned how the patriots in 1776 didn’t fight to replace a king with the privileges granted to a few. But this section makes me think of the ongoing and global occupy movement. With only 1 per cent of the American population having more wealth than the remaining 99 per cent of Americans. As seen throughout history, those with money tend to have their voices heard first, so maybe this line is wrong as well; maybe we aren’t there yet. This paragraph finishes with the recollection that the republic of the people cannot survive on a population that’s “half slave, and half free.” But can it survive on one that is towered over by millionaires and inhabited with poverty?
The message of the President had already spoken to the hearts of millions who are facing crisis in their lives, or problems they find in their nation. This was only two minutes in to a speech of nineteen minutes total. So, with some needed skimming, one of the things that has gotten the most attention from listeners is a line he said causally, but had the impact of a lottery win to some, and a bullet wound to others. Something an American President has never mentioned in an inaugural address let alone a speech to millions.
He mentioned how in America the lessons of the past will be acted on now. Not only did he speak about how parents of children with disabilities will no longer have, “nowhere to turn,” but also the following line, which led to great applause. “Our journey [for equality] is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”
Finally, America comes out of the closet in regards to gay rights. This one line (and the briefest mention of the Stonewall Riots of 1969) was historical in its own right. It led to articles on gay rights, ideas for solutions, analysis of the problems, tears of joy and screams of anger. But it was said, and can never be taken back. That’s what makes it beautiful. The issue was addressed to an audience Obama knew to be in the millions, globally. The night Obama was reelected; Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay US Senator in America (for Wisconsin). A state where rights for gays and lesbians are limited as it is. Kathleen Wynne, who will soon be our new Premier of Ontario, will be the first openly gay Premier in Canadian history.
Long speech short, the world has issues. These issues are now being talked about, and not secretly whispered. From Medicare, woman’s rights and from immigration to war times ending; Obama said all he needed to. The question now is, will it be acted on?