Post-Inauguration Reflections from the Council Staff

January 21, 2009 posted by Delores M. Walters [caption id="attachment_947" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Council Staff at Caroline's (Photo cred Deborah Siegel)"][/caption] On Inauguration Day, the Council staff gathered to watch the historic ceremony at Caroline’s, a club on Broadway in the Theater District of Manhattan.  The White House Project kindly hosted us.  I asked for everyone’s reflections.    Our reactions are a mirror of the hope, inspiration and goodwill stimulated by the inauguration of the nation’s first African American president. Multiple tasks lie ahead. We at the Council intend to continue in our process of growth and change. 1) What did today mean to you as a woman, a feminist, a US citizen, etc? 2) What moment stands out in your mind as most poignant from today's inaugural; did anything you heard or saw give you chills or goose bumps? 3) If you could make one wish for the Obama administration, what would it be? As a feminist who cares about equality, I am proud to be part of a nation that has evolved, from our history, to the point where race is no longer a key defining factor of who can be elected to lead our nation. And I'm excited to feel that I've played a small part in the contestations that have led to this moment. As a citizen, I'm thrilled that this historic happening, and the president we have elected, has captured the imagination of much of the world -- a world that seems willing to once again view us as a country of possibility, where change can happen. And I'm hopeful that we now have a leadership that can appreciate and leverage this renewed global trust and good will, and that will act, with humility, as a member of a world community of nations. 2 moments gave me goose bumps:

  • When I looked out over the Washington Mall to see the millions gathered -- people as far as we could see - to mark and share in this watershed moment in our history.
  • When Obama commented in his speech that we have elected a man president who 60 years ago may not have been able to get a seat at a lunch counter.

My wish is that Obama and his team will now turn their gaze to the many ways that women and girls are still disadvantaged and exploited, many of which we as an organization will bring to their attention!

--Linda Basch, President

As a woman and an immigrant, I felt that Obama’s inauguration was finally an invitation to an equal partnership in creating a vision, for this society and beyond, that was based on fundamental principles of equality, justice, sharing, and rights for all. And if these core values did not actually exist among classes of people who have been historically marginalized or left behind in participating or having a voice in decision-making, either here or abroad, then there was hope that it might actually be realized through a spirit of idealism and commitment to change. I felt a part of his warm embrace of diversity when he stated that the “patchwork heritage” that defines America included Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus and nonbelievers.

And when he addressed those who are ”on the wrong side of history,” his proffered hand to those willing to unclench their fists resonated with true Gandhian values of non-violence, compassion and generosity of thought and deed. And finally here was an educated, thoughtful, intellectually accomplished global citizen whose experiences at home and abroad have made him singularly qualified to provide stewardship at such a difficult moment and lead a country so debased in the eyes of many. He commands my attention and respect while stirring me to carry out his bidding: “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work again of remaking America.”

--Shyama Venkateswar, Director of Research and Programs

As a global citizen and a woman born in the USA, I am extremely moved by the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama. Like millions of others, I had hardly dared hope that this day would ever come. I’m filled with exuberant joy, along the vein of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:  “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…”

The moment that stands out for me, and one of the many occasions for personal waterworks, was when he talked about ushering in an era of peace and that “America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity…” I also relished all of the unrehearsed moments: a wink into the camera that was actually aimed at one of his daughters; Supreme Court Justice Roberts flubbing the oath of office…the windblown former presidents, first ladies, vice presidents, and other survivors of grandeur.

My wish is for President Obama to never lose faith in himself. If he remains true to his values, his measured intellect, and his goals as laid out in the inaugural address, the world will witness a change of course with hopefully lasting consequences for human progress…

--Vivienne Heston-Demirel, Director of Communications

I've never felt this patriotic in my life.  I am not a flag waver and have always been cynically suspicious of patriotism, in fact, as it's played out in this country for most of my life.  Yesterday, my partner got up early to case the tourist shops at Times Square for a flag pin.  A few days earlier, I had gone out and painted my nails red and blue.  It's the end of a kind of deeply entrenched cynicism for me as a US citizen.  There's now this feeling that my government actually shares my beliefs on issues that run very deep.  And that makes me achingly proud.

Seeing the New York Post headline writ large--"President Barack Obama"--gave me extreme chills this morning on the subway.  I thought to myself, "It's real."

That the American public gives the new administration time.  This new government is bound to disappoint some in some ways--expectations are so high, and we are all feeling so desperate right now.  So my hope is for patience, on our part.  At the same time, I hope that the Obama Administration follows through on the mandate that got them there: Let this be the people's government--and may they be as inclusive in setting their agendas and priorities as we all now expect them to be.

--Deborah Siegel, Consultant

Perhaps naively, I have always believed that an African American – or any “underdog” could be president.  I felt immense pride on two levels.  First, that we, the people, proved that we can value and elect a person for their capabilities, values and ethics.  Second, though it’s not my place, I felt very proud of President Obama – a hardworking, brilliant, educated, apparently wise man who spent a lifetime making himself a worthy candidate and realized that goal. The musical quartet exemplified the diversity and cooperation that I think exists everywhere, yet is often overlooked or denied, and I was deeply moved.  The composer and musicians certainly are exceptionally talented, but all were sitting on the stage performing at one of the most momentous ceremonies in the history of the world because of hard work and dedication, not because of demographics or privilege. That the American people are patient.  I’m not suggesting complacence; we should campaign with more energy than ever.  Still, we must understand it will take time to resolve the burning issues – war and a crashing economy - as well as to make progress in areas of quieter suffering, such as the ones the Council addresses.

--Teresa Bagley, Director of Development

I thought it was truly serendipitous that the Inauguration of Barack Obama – America’s first black President – fell on the day after Martin Luther King Day.  This historic moment became all the more real to me as a feminist and activist, since it came on the heels of a day that begs reflection on our country’s struggles for civil rights.  As President Obama said today, much work remains to be done in the fight for equality, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I can’t help but be optimistic. 

Having never watched a Presidential Inauguration before, I was unsure of what to expect from the ceremony, but perhaps one of the most interesting parts for me was watching the legacy of leaders who have preceded President Obama as they marched to their seats.  Seeing Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Carter all present for the induction of their next leader seemed to provide a sense of continuity and unity to the process.

--Lisa Rast, Development Coordinator

As the clock rolled to 12noon, Michelle gently reached forward and squeezed Barrack's shoulder.  For some reason, that simple gesture--full of love and support--touched me more than any words spoken this morning.  It reminded me of the many times my mother had touched my shoulder.  I felt my body relax with the realization that in that tiny, quiet moment, a new era was ushered in.  And it was ushered in with a gesture of love.  What a beautiful start. As the Obama administration takes its first steps, I will watch with anxious anticipation.  Will a trans-inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) pass? Will women's reproductive rights be fully restored?  Will we finally have a budget that prioritizes health and education over war and violence?  How will Obama bring our nation together under the "common purpose" he mentioned in his speech?  I am given hope by an example of inclusion he reminded me of during his speech: mentioning nonbelievers along with people of various faiths.  Perhaps this administration will not only respond to people's calls for inclusion but actually guide the nation to a new type of unity, a new level of inclusion.

--Kyla Bender-Baird, Research and Programs Coordinator

As a woman, feminist, US Citizen, it means to me that the world of possibility has opened up for more opportunities for me and everyone else to dream a little bigger, and reach those goals as well.

I liked the benediction and the "if you're yellow, be mellow etc" I can't remember the rest. I fear that times will be tough and I wish him the grace to always follow his heart without trepidation in whatever challenges lie ahead for our country.

--Bianca Kawecki, Development Assistant

Click here for part 2 of Post-Inauguration Reflections

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Answering these questions is challenging for me, mainly because I am not American and feel no loyalty or love towards this country. However, as a human being, an advocate for equal rights an opportunities, I am moved by the significance of Obama’s achievements, by the symolism it implies and by the mass of people who stand by him. Moreover, although I do not feel any attachment to American history, nor do I relate to it, I am impressed by Obama’s determination and confidence, and excited to see how far America has come with regards to race and ethnicity. 2) I was moved by Obama’s desire to restore people’s trust in their government, the backbone of any democracy that wished to function properly. Also: all are equal, all are free, and all deserve to pursue happiness. 3) I hope many things, starting with a change in direction: first of all I hope that Obama will concentrate on the issues WITHIN America first. Secondly, I hope that his leadership will lead the US to view itself as a participant in the world rather than a central orchestrator as it sometimes has in the past. I genuinely believe in Obama’s ability and capacity to participate in making profound changes with regards to race and ethnicity in America. These issues are at the source of great tensions in this country, they are unlike anything I have ever witnessed anywhere else in the world.
[...] During the inauguration, I sat at a table with the staff of the National Council for Research on Women. Our remembrances from the day are now posted at their blog, The REAL Deal, right here. [...]