Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reflections on the Inauguration

I'm back in San Francisco, equal parts exhausted and exhilarated. It's time to turn my attention back to my work and my family. But before I do, I wanted to take a moment to reflect. I heard yesterday that with approximately 2 million people at the Mall and on the parade route on Tuesday, there was not one arrest. That sort of says it all. I had anticipated the sense of history being made. I had not anticipated the pervasive joy, the sense of community and abiding hope and goodwill. Even in the airport early Wednesday morning, as nerves became frayed in the process of trying to get through security and make it onto airplanes with far too many fellow passengers, the sense of camaraderie persisted. Every gate was filled with people in Obama t-shirts, wearing Obama hats and pins. Folks were being conscientious about greeting each other, sharing smiles and stories of our inaugural adventures before we all returned to our separate lives. This morning, I went to The White House website for the first time in my life. It is truly something to behold, and if you had any doubt that change has, in fact, come to America just check out the civil rights page: http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/civil_rights/ As I said at the beginning of this post, I am exhausted from the trip, and clearly there is much work to be done. But the sense of possibility in the air is palpable, and it truly feels like a new day has dawned.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yes, We Did!

Barack Hussein Obama is now President of the United States. What more can I say? Okay, I’ll say a little more.... Monday evening, my son and I joined Kate Clinton at Dupont Circle for a public purification ritual designed at driving any bad spirits left behind by the Bush administration out of the White House, out of Washington DC, and out of our own minds and hearts. Songs were sung, sage was burned, jokes were made (it was, after all, Kate Clinton). Kate noted a good omen in what many had only seen as a near miss – the US Air flight which came down in the Hudson River a few days earlier. As she noted, a plane had an emergency in New York, and it didn’t hit any buildings. There was a highly competent pilot in charge. A strong team of flight attendants was ready to do what needed to be done. A community of boats came right to the rescue. Could this be a “sign” of what’s coming?? What strong leadership and a sense of hope and community can accomplish?? It was a moving analogy, if slightly far-fetched.... Our day Tuesday started at 6:30 a.m. with a knock on the door and our host’s voice telling us that we’d better get going if we wanted to make it to the Mall for the inauguration. We threw on every warm piece of clothing in our suitcases, and were out the door by 7:00. We were staying near Howard University, and it was about a ½ hour brisk walk straight down 7th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. At every cross street, we were joined by more folks on foot, all headed in the same direction. The newspaper had said that 7th Street would be one of the few places that pedestrians could cross Pennsylvania Avenue – which was mostly blocked off because of the parade – but when we got to within a few blocks of Pennsylvania it became clear that there was no way we were getting across – the police had had to block it, because so many folks were already arriving to stake out spots for the parade. To make a long story short, what followed was a 3 hour trek to find access to the Mall, wandering all the way down to 1st Street, then all the way back up to 21st Street. Despite many discouraging comments from overwhelmed security officers along the lines of “you can’t get there from here,” it was a “yes we can” day, and ultimately yes we did. Once we got to the Mall, it was way easier to navigate. We watched the inauguration on a Jumbo-tron right next to the Washington Monument, along with hundreds of thousands of others who had also trekked in by foot from far-flung places (all bridges were closed between DC and Virginia, so anyone coming from Virginia had no choice but to come on foot). It was cold. It was crowded. It was moving and joyful and tearful and wonderful. And, as with the concert two days earlier, the sense of calm and mutual well-being was truly stunning in a crowd so big. Honestly, folks continued to share hope and laughter and tidbits of information all morning, even as we were being turned back from checkpoint after checkpoint. The experience of cheerful camaraderie with the masses of humanity who had made the same pilgrimage we had made – despite broad differences in age, race, region and experience – is one of the primary things that made the whole weekend so memorable. As far as the inauguration itself goes -- well, I assume you all have seen or heard as much of it as you want to by now. The only thing I will say about Rick Warren’s invocation is this: If he actually reads and thinks about the words he said – if he takes to heart his own message of inclusion – we’ll all be fine. On the other hand, Rev. Lowery’s benediction was wonderful, and ended the whole event with laughter – a truly fitting end to the most upbeat and inspirational ginormous event I may ever have the privilege of attending. His final words: “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.” And with that, it was over, with a huge waive of laughter and a million + Amen’s. It was a long and logistically complex weekend. I am exhausted. But my spirit is replenished and I now know – having seen it with my own eyes – that there are millions of us out there, of all races, religions, ages and stages, who are ready to work for the good of our country and our world, and who truly believe that the time for change has come. There is no question that we have much hard work to do, but this weekend renewed my confidence that we can, in fact, do it. Si, se puede. Yes, we can.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kicking Off the Inauguration

Wow - what a day! We started at the Holocaust Museum this morning, which I had visited once before but never ceases to pack a punch. Getting in involved an hour of waiting outside in the cold - but it also gave us a feel for who's in DC this weekend. The family in front of us had flown in from Vancouver, WA because their eldest son's marching band is in the inaugural parade; behind us was a gospel group from Nashville; and a deaf tour group joined the mix after a while, whose exact role in the inaugural celebration I never figured out. Old and young, from every state, of every race and color, gay and straight, folks are flooding into DC to be part of this historic event. That, in and of itself, is exciting and historic! From the Holocaust Museum we went straight to the Mall, to participate in the inaugural kick-off concert. Unfortunately, we missed the Right Reverend Robinson's invocation, which came before the event truly started, but what a concert!!! High points included Mary Blige belting out Lean On Me, Garth Brooks killing American Pie, Stevie Wonder singing with Usher and Shakira, and U2. Oh, and Pete Seeger singing the original, uncensored version of This Land Is Your Land with Bruce Springsteen as back-up. What an extraordinary array of talent!! During This Land is Your Land, we were standing behind a young African American family (we kept moving the entire time, due to my son's determination to get close enough to actually see the performers on the stage, if only in a far-away-and-tiny kind of way). My friend Sue and my son and I were all singing along, and I looked up to see the little girl from this African-American family, on her dad's shoulders, singing along with us. The joy to all be there together, all singing together, was palpable, and will be with me for a long time. But here is what blew me away the most, looking back on the day: I was raised by peace activists, who took me to many of the big anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations. I was at the "Counter Inauguration" for Nixon in January 1969, which included a violent confrontation between protesters and police, and was back on the Mall in November of that same year for the National Mobilization to End the War. I attended huge marches in Boston and New York, including the 1982 anti-nuclear march in New York City where crowd estimates were close to 1 million. Today was not even close to the first time that I have shared a public space with hundreds of thousands of my closest friends. But today was completely different from any of those other experiences because today, the estimated 400,000 people crowding the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument were filled not with anger and frustration, but with hope and joy and an enormous sense of satisfaction. "Yes We Can" has become "Yes We Did," and folks are here to celebrate - and celebrate we did. It was by far the calmest, most peaceful assembly of hundreds of thousands of people I have ever seen or imagined. A pure joy, without a moment of concern for my safety or that of my son, full of shared smiles and appreciations, and an overwhelming sense of community. As I said, what a day!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Checking in From DC

My son and I made it to DC today. We took the red-eye to New York, then flew on to Baltimore this morning. It is a balmy 9 degrees here, which sent us scurrying to REI to stock up on more warm clothes. But already at the Baltimore-Washington International airport this morning you could feel the excitement in the air – especially when folks around us waiting for baggage (and I do mean waiting – it took almost as long for our baggage to come out of the chute as it had taken us to fly in from JFK airport) put 2 and 2 together at the Delta baggage claim, and figured out that the older African American gentleman who had just asked me if I knew on which carousel the bags from Atlanta could be found was none other than Congressman John Lewis, a true hero of the civil rights movement. The sense of camaraderie at the airport this morning reminded me of only one prior travel experience – going to the Gay Games in Vancouver (the last time I went, before my partner and I started having kids). On that trip, there was a strong sense of identification and excitement as arriving athletes and fans began to congregate at the airport. This was like that, but even more so, as folks arrived from all parts of the country to participate in this historic weekend. And the pride on the faces of many of the African Americans around me – including Congressman Lewis – was, in and of itself, worth the price of the ticket to fly here. After the bruising time we have experienced in the Bay Area since the New Years morning shooting of Oscar Grant, it is wonderful to be surrounded by a sea of faces of all races and colors filled with the joy and hope that this weekend represents.... Tomorrow, we are heading downtown to the Holocaust Museum, and then to the kick-off event for the inauguration, featuring an invocation by the openly gay Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson and concerts by a spectacular line-up of performers including Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono (apparently you only get to perform at this event if your name begins with "B"). It is absolutely amazing to be here -- and I will do my best to continue reporting daily, to share it with those of you who couldn't make the trip.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Musings About Race

One week from tomorrow, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the next President of the United States. As previously noted, my younger son and I will be flying to DC to share in this historic moment. For someone like myself, who grew up in Boston during the busing crisis, with an uncle who worked as an attorney for the Black Panther Party, issues of race and racism have always been in my consciousness. I have been acutely aware of the racial dynamics of the work I do -- first as a public defender in Oakland, where race played a constant and unmistakable role, and more recently in my international adoption work and my assisted reproduction work -- and I have often thought about the ways that racism permeates our society. I honestly wondered whether the United States of America was capable of electing an African American president, and remained skeptical even as my optimism grew this fall. I still sometimes think I will wake up and find that this has been a dream.... It feels like the world -- or at least our corner of the world -- has changed with the election of Barack Obama. We will have a Black man as our leader. His face is the face that will represent our country to the world. The forces that said that race defines us in a limiting way -- that Blacks are inherently inferior -- that we have to keep this country white -- have been pushed back in a profound and hopefully final way. My sons will grow up in a different world than the one I grew up in. Or so I thought. And then, early New Year's morning, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer as he lay face down on an Oakland BART platform. Grant was Black. The officer who shot him was white. Same old story.... There is clearly much more to this story than meets the eye. From what we are hearing, the officer who gunned Grant down is not a lunatic, not a particularly violent man. I have to assume this was a terrible mistake. (Of course, he can't tell us, since he is likely to be arrested and charged with murder any day now, and any statement he makes will be used against him in court -- I am a lawyer, so I do know how this works.) As one knowledgeable commentator said yesterday, the officer who shot Grant almost certainly didn't pull the trigger because Grant was Black. But the fact that officers responded the way they did -- pulling the young men off the train and having them lie prone on the BART platform -- feeling a need to have weapons drawn -- hyping up rather than calming down a potentially volatile situation -- has everything to do with race. The most telling thing about this, for me, was the conversation I had about it with my 12-year-old -- the one I am taking with me to DC for the inauguration. When I told him that a BART officer had shot and killed a 22-year old on a BART platform on New Year's Eve, in plain view of a train full of passengers, my son's first comment was: "Let me guess -- the guy who got shot was Black, right?!" This is my 12-year old talking. He did not grow up in Boston during the busing riots. He was not around when the Black Panthers were being jailed and killed, with a beloved family member fighting for justice on their behalf. And yet.... My hope for all of us, as I look to the inauguration of Barack Obama next week, is that the babies I see around me now grow up in a world where they can hear about a young man being shot by a police officer and not feel safe in the assumption that the young man was Black. Then I'll know that our election of Obama as our President really did mean what I am hoping it will mean.