I wrote these posts on 20 and 21 January 2009. No further comment required, I think.

20.01.2009 Jubilee


Jubilee, n: any season of great joy and festivity; joyful shouting; exultant joy. In the book of Leviticus, every fiftieth year a Jubilee year, in which slaves and prisoners are freed, debts forgiven, proclaimed by the sound of a trumpet.

Oh glad day to celebrate
‘Neath the cloudless sky
Air so sweet water pure
Fields ripe with rye
Come one, come all
Gather round
Discard your Sunday shoes
Come on now, Oh my land
Be a jubilee
Come on girl, Come on boy
Be a jubilee

We will never fade away
Doves shall multiply
Yet I see hawks circling the sky
Scattering our glad day with debt and despair
What good hour will restore our troubled air?

We are love and the future
We stand in the midst of fury and weariness
Who dreams of joy and radiance?
Who dreams of war and sacrifice?

Our sacred realms are being squeezed
Curtailing civil liberties

Recruit the dreams that sing to thee:
Let freedom ring

– Patti Smith

In praise of … Pete Seeger

From the editorial in today’s Guardian:

Moments of historical symbolism do not rate higher than Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington today. Yet on Sunday, with Obama listening, Washington witnessed another small sign of the mood of change and hope that will swathe the US Capitol today. More than 50 years ago, the leftwing folk-singer Pete Seeger was – a bit like many African-Americans – a second-class citizen in his own land. Summoned to give evidence about his political leanings and contacts to the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger refused to testify. This led to an indictment for contempt, a prison sentence and a travel ban. In America’s cold war blacklisting and red-baiting years, Seeger was unable to perform in many halls, was excluded from college campuses and banned from the airwaves. All the while, though, he kept writing and singing, mostly for good causes and sometimes, naively, for less defensible ones. He sang with Woody Guthrie at the start, then with the Weavers, later in the 1960s folk revival with Bob Dylan and, more recently, with Bruce Springsteen. This week, the 89-year-old Seeger stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial singing Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land with Springsteen at the pre-inauguration concert. Seeger’s judgment on politics and music has not always been right, but he is a man of his times and he has been the troubadour of the American left for more than half a century. His return to the spotlight is another sign that things are changing for the better in America this week.

See also: Welcome back, Pete Seeger, this land is your land too (National Examiner)

Pete Seeger & Bruce Springsteen – This Land is Your Land

Obama Inaugural Celebration Concert 18 January 2009

I spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality. For many… the distance between that dream and their reality has never been greater or more painful. I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and work. I believe he understands in his heart the cost of that distance in blood and suffering in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president he would work to bring that dream back to life. So I don’t know about you, but I want my country back, I want my dream back. Now is the time to stand together with Barack Obama and Joe Biden and the millions of Americans that are hungry for a new day, roll up our sleeves and come on up for the rising.

– Bruce Springsteen, 2 November 2008.

Official portrait of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 13, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza)
Official portrait of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 13, 2009.
(Photo by Pete Souza)

This is Barack Obama’s official Presidential portrait by the newly appointed official White House photographer Pete Souza; the first ever taken with a digital camera. Since the image is digital, the EXIF data can also be seen. According to the information, the portrait was taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II on January 13, 2009 at 5:38pm. The lens used was 105mm stopped to F/10 at a 1/125 exposure, with an ISO setting of 100.

Hear Pete Souza’s story of following Barack Obama and view some of the pictures he captured:

Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run; Obama is running so our children can fly! Read about the origins of this epigram in a text message from a 19-year old single mother from McKeesport, Pennsylvania – or maybe it was here.

21.01.2009 Change has come to America

Along with I don’t know how many million people around the world, we watched Barack Obama’s inauguration as America’s first African-American President. It felt as if the ceremony washed away eight dreadful years of feeling that everything American was despicable. Instead, there was a sense of real nobility: of democracy and the power of the people as expressed in the voices of the two million-strong crowd – quite possibly the largest mass of humanity ever to have gathered in one place for a single political moment – and of core American values restated.

It wasn’t just Obama’s address, but each element of the ceremony that seemed to express this nobility. From the opening remarks by senator Dianne Feinstein, the remarkable Invocation by evangelical pastor Rick Warren to Aretha Franklin’s spine-tingling performance of My Country ‘Tis of Thee. From the poem by Elizabeth Alexander to the Benediction by civil rights’ veteran the Reverend Dr Joseph E Lowery. Taken with Obama’s address, all of these elements contributed to a powerful whole.

Obama’s address has, by now, been analysed extensively. To me what was striking was the degree of radicalism (on human rights, climate change, American power in the world, corporate greed) that was clothed in American tradition and history. It was rhetorical but sober, and at its heart you felt there was muscle, sinew and above all, there was the emphasis – both in domestic and foreign issues- on the need for mutuality and mutual respect.  The rejection of the Bush years was contained in the passage in which he stated that America now will not sacrifice her ideals for security, that she will extend hand of friendship to hostile nations if they will unclench their fists – and, best of all, there was the specific pledge Muslim world:

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.

Rick Warren Invocation

Aretha Franklin

Elizabeth Alexander Praise Song for The Day

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbour as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Benediction by Joseph Lowery

The White House website later today
The White House website later today

And this is what he replaced:

19.01.2009 Bush: the final hours

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter it or abolish it and to institute a new Government…

…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government.

The history of the present president of the United States is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:

He has suspended the rights of American citizens to fundamental civil liberties. He has forgotten that the United States was founded on the proposition of the separation of church and state. He has encouraged torture and abuse and hatred. A president whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

We indict George W Bush. For befouling our country’s name. For using the rhetoric of freedom to justify tyranny. For rigging the election process. For squandering a vast federal surplus, while giving tax breaks to the rich. For forsaking the poor. For ignoring international agreements to protect the environment. For abandoning Alaska to the oil companies.

For abandoning New Orleans. For depriving prisoners of the benefits of a trial by jury. For establishing secret prisons on foreign soil.

For authorising illegal eavesdropping and surveillance. For waging a war based on lies. We indict George W. Bush!!

 – Patti Smith

Patti Smith: Declaration of Independence

Patti Smith indicts George W. Bush in this clip from Patti Smith: Dream Of Life, Steven Sebring’s documentary.

Neil Young: Let’s Impeach The President

Pink: Dear Mr President

When The President Talks to God

A photo montage to the song “When the President Talks to God” by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst

The Bush Years

Let’s not forget the evil people around GW Bush – profiled in this Guardian special. That includes Secretay of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

2 thoughts on “‘Change has come to America’: how I saw the Obama inauguration

  1. That pic. is heart wrenching, in & of itself. Compare that beautiful family photo, simple, spare and joyful with what has just occurred.

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