The rant that passed for an inaugural address last week appeared to be written, and delivered, by people not very friendly to the United States of America. During the Cold War, dictators and demagogues might have used words like “carnage,” “tombstones,” “rusted,” and “stolen” as propaganda against the United States. On Friday, to the dismay of many, it came from the steps of the United States Capitol.
An inaugural address, at the local, state, or federal level, provides the first opportunity for a newly-elected leader to offer a positive message of unity and understanding for all his or her constituents. The campaign ends, and the hard work of governance begins. The more positive parts of Friday’s speech – debating disagreements honestly, America united and unstoppable, heart and fight and spirit of America – were overshadowed by dark undertones, almost threats, delivered in an angry voice and manner. The president’s speech castigated “politicians,” business, public education, immigrants, and religion, and essentially left unsaid any plans to nurture a healing of the many divisions of thought and attitude in the nation’s electorate.
On Saturday, the Women’s March on Washington provided the foundation of the opportunity to heal. Half a million people marched peacefully on the National Mall, emulated by hundreds of thousands more in this country and around the world. Young women told me of being “adopted” by older women during the march to ensure they did not get lost; a blind woman was surrounded by a volunteer “cell” of supporters who cleared the way for her to pass through the crowds; police were “polite and nice.” Attendees from the Mall to Madison, from New York to San Francisco, were united in solidarity (a word used in the inaugural address), against a president and new administration right now, but poised to move to the next step – engagement and action – for the long haul.
The engagement must continue. “One and done” does not suffice, and would make a mockery of the effort, expense, and equanimity that originally created the Women’s March. Beyond the pink hats, and the occasionally irreverent sign, is an incredible reserve of energy and righteousness that must continue, in the same positive fashion seen during the march. Longtime political watchers have seen this before – the peaceful, and sometimes not quite so peaceful, anti-Vietnam marches in the late 1960s, were the catalysts, over time, for the retirement of one president, the resignation of another, and an eventual end to the war. Despite the new president’s protestations, the people always have had that power, and elected officials rarely forget that important basis of our democracy.
Interestingly juxtaposed with inaugural events are the many ethnic celebrations of the 2017 Lunar New Year. This is the Year of the Rooster which, depending on the culture, is fiery and tenacious, or identified as representing fidelity and punctuality. Our community is enriched by traditional customs from many cultures, a participatory opportunity that can benefit everyone, including the new administration.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]