Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On the Mall on 1.20.09: Yes We Can!

So, why does a trained professional spend 5 hours to get in front of a Jumbotron on the Washington Mall to see an inauguration that could have viewed in many more comfortable places around the country?

One could argue that the inauguration of Barack Obama heralds the opportunity to begin to develop a system of health care that is comprehensive and integrates mental health care with the primary care system in a way that benefits children and families.  One could argue that, and, while in DC, I attended a "Doctors for Obama" event that allowed us to discuss that and many other ideas for improving the system.

But that wasn't why.

One could argue that fixing the health care system requires us to get the economy under control, and that "fix" requires us all to get behind the President and the people who understand the economy to fix a very broken system.  One could argue that, and at the "Rhode Island Inauguration Breakfast", we heard about the changes that need to happen to create the infrastructure necessary to salvage the system.

But that wasn't why.

One could say that this election addresses race in a way that we as a nation have never tried to do in the past, that the election of an African-American shatters one more glass wall between us and the society envisioned by Dr. King, in which a person is judged, "not be the color of his skin, but the content of his character".  Our African-American community was there in force, to witness this extraordinary piece of history, and I was proud to stand with them.

But that wasn't why.

It really comes down to my favorite quote from Barbara Kingsolver,  who wrote that "
"It's not some perfect ideal we're working toward that keeps us going...I don't expect to see perfection before I die... What keeps you going isn't some fine destination but just the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive. You keep your eyes open, you see this damned-to-hell world you got born into, and you ask yourself,
"What life can I live that will let me breathe in & out and love somebody or something and not run off screaming into the woods."
I was there to affirm my commitment to change, to meet some of the others who are looking to make change and to prepare myself for the task ahead.  
And while I was there, something remarkable happened.  An American President, instead of telling us how great we were, or how great we are or how he will make things all better, called on us all to do something to make America a better place.  A President called on us to to remember, not Abraham Lincoln, but George Washington.  He called on us to get past the small stuff and to make change in the small that could be rolled into change on a massive scale.  He called on us, in reality, to be the country that de Tocqueville saw, a nation of small groups engaged in civic improvement for the public good.   And he called on us to do it in good humor, with dignity and grace.  Sounds hopelessly idealistic, no?  Perhaps.  I left invigorated, engaged and ready to begin the work.

We have a lot of work to do.  But we can do it.  Yes, we can.

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