Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching History

Rarely, I think, does history happen where you can sit down (or go to the National Mall) and watch it in anticipation. I don't just mean the inauguration, and election day, but the entire ascending buildup to those moments. We weren't all entirely certain of what the election results would be, but many saw this moment coming for months if not years.
(Inauguration Day/courtesy: Alex Feldman)

So we've finally reached this moment, and it has passed. Yes we can, and yes we did. Change has come, and Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. But what exactly will change? Yes, some policies will change, but for the most part the "change" that has come to America arrived well before the Inauguration or the election. Obama alluded to this in his speech yesterday:

"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."

All over the District I've seen posters and signs and images of President Obama (glad we don't have to say 'President-elect' anymore) being portrayed as "The Dream, realized." I'm not so sure I'm a fan of this idea that Obama marks the end of racism and prejudice. I don't see Barack Obama's position in the world as the realization of Martin Luther King Jr's dream of equality and justice. It's undoubtedly a step, and the effects will surely be profound in so many ways and in ways I could never imagine. But Obama is only part of the change.
(Obama on the campaign trail/courtesy: AZWiner)

Like many famous historical figures, Obama is not just a powerful person, but was able to be part of a movement. Rosa Parks didn't start the Civil Rights Movement - the growing tension had made a spark almost inevitable. Rosa Parks was part of a movement, a changing tide that had been shifting for decades and would continue shift for decades. Like Harvey Milk for the gay community, like George Washington for the United States, like Lennon or Lincoln or Mandela or Moses, these were leaders, yes, but they were leaders of a movement that was already happening, and desperately needed someone to lead.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the world is changing, and has been changing, and no matter how hard we try, it's not until the historians look back can we attempt to determine when the transition of change occurred. Maybe that's why I have trouble agreeing with the "Obama = change" equation. I see change as not having a specific date - no mark of beginning or end.
Did these people know they were watching history?
(Inauguration Day/courtesy: Alex Feldman)

Yet, I still have this feeling that yesterday, we really did all watch history happen. I imagine no one knew that Lincoln would remain as famous as he is today when he was elected back then, but Americans are aware of the undercurrent tide of change that brought Obama to the White House because they are the ones who brought him there. Obama is not the Messiah-Elect - as fellow Gentleman, Damien, has jokingly referred to him - but America has chosen him as the man to be a Washington, a Roosevelt, a Lincoln, a gentleman to lead a people who have already begun to change.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

it may not be the full realization of his dream, but man, it's pretty damn close.

Max Nova said...

Looking at the first pic reminds me, there were a lot of interesting attempts at group maintenence during the inaugeration from the halfassed of people holding up a rolled up pieces of paper to much smarter thing like the neon ski caps. A very interesting day in terms of crowd management.

Nick said...

well done sir. i appreciated this very well-rounded reflection, which i think mirrors my own sentiments, but in a more well organized and well stated way than my own attmepts to express it. hehe.

cheers, and happy weekend.
-nick

Alison said...

Well said, Adam. I agree that people are putting too much focus on Obama as being the herald of change - it makes us as Americans far too passive in deciding what that change is going to be. I don't agree with all of the policy changes that the President has brought to the table, but I do agree that this nation is heading in a new direction, one that we've been gunning for since at least the 1960s. Hopefully Obama's leadership will be enough for us to bring the movement to its peak.