January 24, 2009

“We live in I’m listening to the soundtrack from Pride and Prejudice composed by Dario Marianelli and performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The music is lovely. Sometimes I get up and dance around the room, pretending… Oh, I don’t know what I’m pretending really. But I get into my own head.

This seemed like the right music to reflect on the inauguration. And the right title – for I have pride and I still see prejudice.

Today’s reflections – as often – are stimulated through the wonderful writings of others. In no particular order, here goes.

If only they’d been there, on the dais, at Obama’s inauguration. I cried as I read Bob Herbert’s 01-20-09 NYT op ed “I Wish You Were Here.”He talked about the four seminar civil rights leaders of the mid-20th century: Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.

There they would sit, next to each other. “Imagine the stories and the mutual teasing and the laughter, and the deep emotion that would accompany their attempts to rise above their collective disbelief…”

What a beautiful image Herbert gives us.

But then, I started to tear up. And I’m tearing up right now as I write this.

Because then Herbert says: “And then imagine a tall white man being ushered into their presence, and the warm smiles of recognition from the big four – and probably tears – for someone who has been shamefully neglected by his nation and his party, Lyndon Johnson.”

Bob Herbert says it best: “Johnson’s contributions to the betterment of American life were nothing short of monumental.”

Johnson stood in the U.S. Congress and demanded the adoption of civil rights legislation. Johnson used his years in the Senate to talk with his colleagues, to push, to demand. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it was Johnson who started the war on poverty, which we still fight today.

Shameful neglect of that tall white man. And I’m ashamed of myself. In my anger about the Vietnam War, I forgot Johnson’s gifts to this country. I forgot his leadership. I cannot, I will not compare ‘Nam and Civil Rights.

I promise to remember. There they are, all five of them, on the dais. Thank you.“Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.” Thank you, President Obama, for saying this outloud. Please say it over and over and over.

I fear the arrogance displayed by too many U.S.-ers. (We are not the only Americans; there are Canadian Americans and Latin Americans and South Americans and…) I disrespect the feeling of exceptionalism that seems to permeate the U.S. society and culture.

Yes, indeed, the time has come to put aside such childish, immature, and offensive behavior. The time has come to accept responsibility for our behavior, both good and bad.

I hope we have the patience and fortitude – the courage – to question ourselves and talk together and make very hard choices.

“I hope Obama is a closet radical.” That’s what Tom Friedman said in his 01-21-09 NYT op-ed column “Radical in the White House.”

I hope so, too. Because we need radical change. The U.S. needs to apologize to the rest of the world for our extraordinary misbehavior in the 2001-2008 era.

Friedman isn’t referring to radical right or radical left – just big change. (Of course, I actually want radical left. But I’m willing to go for Friedman’s version for a while.)

Friedman ends with “…while it is impossible to exaggerate what a radical departure it is from our past…inaugurat[ing] a black man as president, it is equally impossible to exaggerate how much our future depends on a radical departure from the present.”

“Bless us with tears, anger, discomfort, patience, humility, freedom from mere tolerance, compassion and generosity.” That was the beauty of the invocation given by The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson gave his “Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama” at the Lincoln Memorial concert.

If you haven’t read it, get it from the Internet. It’s beautiful. It’s meaningful. It’s a call to action for all of us. A few of my favorite lines are:

  • “Bless us with anger at discrimination at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gayy, lesbian, bisexual and transfer people.”
  • “Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.”

“Let the remaking of America begin today,” said Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.

We have to remake the U.S.

Thank you, President Obama, for saying the words “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers” in your inaugural speech.

It’s a big world out there. So many people believe so many different things. That’s wonderful. Thank you Papa Georges for teaching us Joyaux kids that. People eat, sleep, and make love in languages other than English. There are gods and goddesses and no gods or goddesses. There are people of various colors and varying hues. There are gays and lesbians and old and young and rich and poor and . . .

It’s a big world here in the U.S. I’m tired of hearing “God bless America” from U.S. politicians. I want “one nation under God” removed from the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. Hell, it was only added in the 50s by the witch hunters Joe McCarthy and his pals who were afraid of Communism.

Here’s a powerful statement cited by Nicholas Kristof in his 01-22-09 NYT op-ed “The Remaking of America” : “We [the U.S.] pursued a path that has left us less admired by our allies, less feared by our enemies, and less capable of convincing the rest of the world that our economic and political model is worthy of emulation.” That from David Sanger, author of the book The Inheritance. Reminds me of a book I read when I was, maybe, 12 years old: The Ugly American.

Roger Cohen (NYT 01-22-09 op-ed “The Age of Responsibility”) calls it “the new American humility.”

For those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, Gail Collins (NYT 01-22-09 op-ed “Woodstock Without the Mud”) tells us that the inauguration was like Woodstock, without the mud. She attended both and writes about the “wonderful feeling of community” and “the big difference in the national reaction.” Collins says “the only people who felt unified during Woodstock were those who were there – everyone else was horrified or jealous. But the inauguration left the whole country glued together emotionally, one big American ball of hope.”

“We live in the house FDR built.” I heard that the other day on NPR. From a professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. I’m sorry but I didn’t catch his name.

Our house has the SEC and the FDIC and Social Security and so much more.

The professor noted that we renovate the house. We make changes. But it’s the same house.

We live in the house that Franklin Delano Roosevelt built. That makes me feel warm and secure and hopeful.

So there you have it…today’s musings. My music just ended.

I know there’s till prejudice. Against people of color including blacks. Against women. Against non-believers. Against the poor. Against other countries.

I know there’s excessive U.S. pride that must be tempered.

And I know there’s justified U.S. pride. Pride in our founding and our willingness to flounder. Pride in the change we’ve made. Pride that we can make more change.

Let’s do it. We can if we choose to. If we have the courage.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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