Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama and King

I was fortunate enough to be in DC to witness history this past Tuesday. In my lifetime no one in American politics has inspired me more than Barack Obama. His eloquence, confidence, intelligence, temperament, charisma, and conviction are awe-inspiring. From the moment I began following his career in early 2004, I've been especially impressed by his courage--in taking on the establishment, avoiding the easy political pander, and daring to re-write the conventional political playbook.

On the Mall on Tuesday the symbolism was thick in the cold air. The day after the nation marked the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the inauguration of our first African-American president was cause for jubilation and amazment among the spectators all around me.

Pres. Obama himself only made glancing reference to the issue of race in his inaugural address (he didn't feel the need to state the obvious), and he totally eschewed any overt comparison to Dr. King throughout the weekend's events for fear of appearing self-agrandizing.

But how could any of us have missed it? As the film maker Ken Burns has observed, the ascendency of Obama to the presidency marks the beginning of America's third age. The first began when Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation ushered in the second. And now Obama pushes us into yet another new world.

I would only amend Burns's analysis by adding Dr. King as another bringer of a new American era. A little-known quote from MLK (unearthed by my friend Noah Leavitt) speaks directly to this point, and is eerily relevent today:
[We are] privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human
history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. It is an age in which a new
social order is being born. We stand today between two worlds – the dying old
and the emerging new... [Yes] as we face the fact of this new, emerging world,
we must face the responsibilities that come along with it. A new age brings with
it new challenges...If I may speak figuratively, Old Man Segregation is on his
deathbed. But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute
breathing power, and the guardians of a-status quo are always on hand with their
oxygen tents to keep the old order alive...If we are to speed up the coming of
the new age we must have the moral courage to stand up and protest against
injustice wherever we find it.
Words to remember as we witness the dawn of another new age--the age of Obama--in 2009.


Blogger Joy Leftow said...

Hi Mark Levine, did you ever work for the BBB. I probably have you mixed up. I'm one of many washington heights artists.
Old Man Segregation is what keeps people separate. We need to focus on needs and right now - all over - it's about the very monied and non monied.
I am glad there is a new age as well and hope there will be more compassion for the working hard have not's - a new age with new programs to help all working class citizens and those who have earned their pensions as well.
Please visit Joy's Poetry Blog and feel free to comment on my wondrous crazy life of poetry in washington heights and sites such as fb and ms.

11:37 AM  

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