Obama! DC and MN


Missed the inaugural address on TV this morning? Or just want to savor the words again? Here is the inaugural address, the text of Reverend Joseph Lowrey’s benediction, and a few photos and comments from Minnesotans.

The Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama
Benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowrey

And some reflections from Minnesotans, far and near.

The Uptake is at the Riverview
Phyllis Stenerson – With audacious faith
Colette Davidson – Watching from France
Dwight Hobbes – Not happy with Obama
Anne Nicolai – Standing room only and tears
Minnesotans in DC

The Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowrey

The benediction delivered by Reverend Joseph Lowrey begins with a verse from “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the James Weldon Johnson song commonly known as the black national anthem.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou, who has brought us thus far along the way,
Thou, who has by thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path we pray,
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand
True to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed – the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say


Minnesotans reflect on the Inauguration of Barack Obama

Add your reflection — just email the editor

The Uptake is at the Riverview
By Christian Torkelson –On January 20th 2009 an eager and ecstatic crowd gathered at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis to watch Barack Obama assume the Presidency. Follow along as the crowd reacts to key events during the days ceremonies and Obama’s inaugural address.

Phyllis Stenerson – With audacious faith

“Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, let us sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again!”

This song, written in 1929, became the theme for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 inauguration and associated with overcoming the pain of the Great Depression. I recall it being linked with Minnesota’s Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, the happy warrior, who practiced the “politics of joy.”

“Happy Days” has not been sung much since 1968 when the music of joyful politics was stifled by tragedy, dissent and disillusionment. My participation in the political process has gone from being fun to my being genuinely frightened that our democracy was slipping away. Involvement during these recent years has been intensely serious as my trust in our national leadership eroded.

The next chapter in America’s history started just a few hours ago when a gifted new president delivered an inspiring inaugural address. We’re being given another chance to get this experiment in democracy right. President Obama (I love saying that) says we have difficult times ahead and it will take time to get where we want to go, but we will get there – if every citizen accepts responsibility.

The very good news is that a record number of citizens, especially young people, are deeply committed to political involvement to bring about deep systemic change. The journey will be energized, and more fun, if we return to the politics of joy, the kind of joy that comes along with inclusion, compassion, trust, generosity and love.

My heart runneth over with gratitude for all those who helped make this transcendent time possible.

With audacious faith, Phyllis Stenerson

Colette Davidson – Watching from France

It’s almost a surreal experience to watch Obama’s inauguration from my apartment in France. Perhaps no more surreal than that guy in row 3,654 in D.C., but surreal nonetheless. With all this fanfare, pomp and circumstance, I am simultaneously filled with emotion that yes, we did, and with a feeling of oh my gawwwwd. Is all this really necessary?

The enormous crowds, the 24-hour coverage, the hand-held flags constantly waving – journalists are calling this “Obama-stock.” Even Dustin Hoffman got a special invite to the event. France is getting in on the fun, with several of the major news channels devoting this entire day to the Obama-love. I don’t remember much about Bush’s inauguration, but I doubt it had a lot in common with this one, besides that little hand-on-the-bible part.

Speaking of which, the religious aspect of the U.S. presidential inaugurations continue to shock me. I thought we had a separation of church and state in America. Why, then, is Pastor Rick Warren leading millions of people in prayer? Even Obama referred to the scripture in his address, signing off with the traditional “God Bless America.” Yes, I know, speaking about God on this day is part and parcel for the event, but I’m just saying – the international press is going to have a field day. Sarkozy would get laughed off the podium for talking about Jesus in front of the French public. …

I think the only person who remembered why we were here today was President Obama. His gleaming white smile came and went briefly but was otherwised replaced by a serious look and tone to show the world that he was ready to get down to business. As he said: “Getting down to the work of re-making America.” He appealed to the international community, the Muslim world and our “friends and foes,” while still putting up a hard fight against terrorism. “We can no longer regard the suffering from outside our borders with indifference,” he stated.

Obama’s greatest appeal was to the American people themselves. He asked us to turn to our neighbors in need to offer help, or to nurture a child, for example. He reiterated that this presidency is not about him, but about us. And if we are going to follow Obama on this promise, then we’ve got to walk with him and do our part. As he said, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world…”

Dwight Hobbes – Not happy with Obama

The more he cloaks himself in the memory Abe Lincoln the clearer it is that he’s one more politician who happened to be slicker than the competition. Obama counts on knee-jerk, feel-good association with Lincoln’s image for expedience’s sake. And Lincoln has been cited time and time again as saying that if it took freeing the slaves to preserve the Union that’s what he’d do and that if it took keeping them enslaved, that is what he would do. …

Add to this that the inauguration invocation is being given by homophobic preacher Rick Warren (Jeremiah Wright may’ve been fiercely outspoken, but he never advocated denying anyone the civil right to be who they are) and, of course, that Obama is keeping Bush’s Secretary of Defense on board. If there’s any one office that cries out for the sweeping change on which Barak Obama based his platform, it is the military, which sent American soldiers off to war in, among other things, inefficiently armored vehicles. Never mind that we had no business over there in the first place, attacking another country for imaginary weapons of destruction.

His predecessor issued 171 pardons. Does anyone really believe Obama is going to pardon Native American activist Leonard Peltier or African American activist Mumia Abu Jamal, both of whom, it is exhaustively documented were railroaded to jail? Or that he will so much as look into pardoning the vast number of women whom report after report indicates are in federal prisons for defending themselves and/or their children?

It is ridiculous to get head-over-heels excited just because Barak Obama is black. When Martin Luther King urged this nation to judge someone not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character it cut both ways. Just as someone is not to be discriminated against because they are black doesn’t grant them immunity from scrutiny because they are black.

History is not being made. All we’re seeing is a switch in birthday suits.

Anne Nicolai – Standing room only and tears

Here in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, the restaurants and bars with big-screen TVs were filled with standing-room-only crowds for the televised inauguration ceremony. I was at Casa Milagro, standing next to a man who appeared to be in his 80s. Throughout Obama’s speech–in fact from the moment our new president stepped to the podium–this man was in tears. He whispered, over and over, “I never thought I’d see the day.” Toda la gente estába llorando.