What kind of America is this?
After the evening news, we family and friends ate hot soup to take the Inauguration Day chill off our bones at the end of a long cold day outside. Like a couple million others, we had been hours in the below freezing weather to be with the throngs of people who gathered on our "nation's front porch," the mall. Our feelings, thoughts, recollections, and conversation though had been warmed up by the Inauguration Day's events.
|Joe Volk and guest Susie Whitehouse at the Lincoln Memorial for the inauguration.|
My recollections settled on a time 40 years ago in a barracks room of a black sergeant at Fort Carson, CO. Our cavalry unit had been sent to Chicago for riot control. The six or seven of us, all black but I, had been left behind. It was 1968; we soldiers watched on his TV the news of the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, anger and grief embracing swirling in our hearts. "What kind of America is this?!" I had asked myself. Years later by the time President Bush invaded Iraq and authorized torture, I wondered how could America lose its voice for all the ideals it is supposed to stand for?!
As we left the Memorial Bridge and made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, my question of 40 years ago got a long awaited answer. Now in 2008, I could see that America can change and be healed by coalitions of conscience that work together to mend a broken world. If we let hope unite us in action toward our better selves and put fear in its place, we can reach up to the ideals of America. When Aretha began to sing "My Country Tis of Thee," I thought America has found its voice again.
That morning as we walked the Memorial Bridge, Beth stopped to take a photo of the icy surface of the Potomac River. It was a chaos of frozen, then broken, then refrozen pieces of ice - quite forbidding. I thought that the river looks like a metaphor for our troubled world. Then we walked eastward into the sun and blue sky with some lovely clouds. I recalled an email from Europe that I received the day after the election from Brenda Bailey. She said, "Congratulations, America! A new day is dawning."
Events have emerged from the nonviolent freedom struggle for justice, equality, and human dignity and led up to the 2008 Presidential election victory of Barack Obama. His election now gives meaning to that civil rights struggle. Going forward from Obama's election, the events emerging from it and over the next forty years will define his presidency and give it meaning. What we do now will make all the difference. We stand at a decisive and opportune moment. Perhaps a new day is dawning. We will all have to work hard in new coalitions of conscience to make it so.