It's hard to not get swept up in the feeling of jubilation this week. Even as a writer who did not support a vote for Obama, the mood is undeniable. For a country built on slavery and racism to inaugurate Barack Hussein Obama is truly staggering history. It's a feeling being shared by writers, activists, musicians, and anyone who has spent the past several years grasping at straws for any shred of hope.
At Monday's pre-inaugural rally at the Lincoln Monument, hundreds of thousands watched as a plethora of artists and entertainers rang in a new presidential era, with Biden and Obama in attendance. All the eyes of news and entertainment seemed to focus on Jamie Foxx's imitation of Obama, or Beyonce's version of "America the Beautiful." But the most moving song of the day came from Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger, whose rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" brought the crowd into a deafening applause. All the decades of co-optation can't quite sanitize that song's message away--especially when those two sing it.
What does this mean? What does it mean for one of the most quintessentially bottom-up, egalitarian songs in American history to resonate through all the pomp and circumstance of the most tightly controlled ceremony in the country?
What does it mean for thousands of gays, lesbians and transexuals to march for civil rights, even while Obama seats a civil rights icon Aretha Franklin next to anti-gay bigot Rick Warren?
What does it mean for the man championed as "the first hip-hop president" to remain silent on the bombardment of Gaza and the police murder of a Black father while MCs and artists have dared to speak out on both?
It means that ordinary people are expecting a lot more than they have in a long time, and they're not afraid to speak up. The dire circumstances of the worst economic recession in decades have meant that Obama's promises of "change" have taken on a life of their own in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.
The night before the inauguration, right down the street from the Capitol steps, a show was held at the Black Cat, one of the few remaining decent rock clubs in DC. Headlined by Ted Leo--one of the most rebellious of today's indie artists--It was a show celebrating the end of the Bush era, and the arrival of a new face in the White House. Leo, however, has never been an artist to settle with allowing an elected official change things for the better. A musician who has called for a militant fight-back against racism and sexism, who has played at countless anti-war protests and events, his outlook can best be summed up by a short post on his website the day after the elections:
Recognize and appreciate the significance...
...And let's get down to work!"
We would do well to think of what NaS said in his single "Black President," his endorsement of Obama set alongside scathing rebukes against racism and war:
"I think Obama provides Hope - and challenges minds
Of all races and colors to erase the hate
And try and love one another, so many political snakes
We in need of a break I'm thinkin'
I can trust this brotha
But will he keep it way real?
Every innocent nigga in jail - gets out on appeal
When he wins - will he really care still?"
It's these kinds of questions we should all keep in mind. If Obama was elected by an anti-war majority, why is he sending more troops to Afghanistan? If so many in this country are outraged by the police shooting of Oscar Grant, why does Obama remain silent? If millions are losing their jobs, why does he continue to give billions to banks that refuse to be regulated?
This is indeed a new era. This week the neanderthals who have prattled on about terrorist fist-jabs and baby mama's look like they have taken an anvil to the chest, and it is truly sweet. But the change we need won't come from President Obama or any other official. If this land was "made for you and me," then that change must come from you and me.
Originally appeared at SleptOn.com.