What do Oklahoma teenager Matt Webber, the Tuskegee Airmen, Tim Robbins, Seal, Spike Lee, Elvis Costello, Susan Sarandon, Sting and the Lesbian and Gay Band Association have in common? All, along with up to 4 million other hopeful enthusiasts, will be attending Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, in what promises to be the largest such gathering in U.S. history. To date, the biggest inaugural event was for President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when 1.2 million turned out.
With the theme of “Restoring America’s Promise,” Obama’s swearing in ceremony is sure to be a uniting and inspiring event, as indicated by the invitations to the Tuskegee Airmen and the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, a first on both accounts.
Already a debate has emerged on the inauguration’s size, with the U.S. Park Service and other law enforcement agencies minimizing the possible turnout. Other officials, however, are preparing for humongous crowds. Since the debate over the size of the 1995 Million Man March, federal officials no longer estimate crowd size of Washington gatherings.
Underlying the controversy, however, is a vitally important political issue: the degree of Obama’s electoral mandate and along with it the extent of the Democratic landslide, both measures of the relationship of forces in coming congressional legislative battles.
In the face of an economic crisis without recent precedent, polling suggests Obama will enter office with a huge reservoir of popular support. The mass inaugural outpouring on Jan. 20 will confirm the people’s mandate for progressive change.
Clearly the new president will need all of the support he can muster. As the union-busting antics of congressional Republicans on the auto bailout already indicate, the ultra-right sections of the ruling class are gearing up for a no-holds-barred effort to inflict body blows against key sections of the labor-led people’s coalition. Even in the new Congress, these well-funded Chamber of Commerce inspired efforts are sure to continue.
Universal health care, the Employee Free Choice Act, jobs and even fulfilling the promise to end the war in Iraq are all at stake. Only the escalation, broadening and deepening of the mass movement for change begun in 2008 can insure the extreme right’s maneuvers are defeated.
Obama announced his inaugural train will stop for events in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore on its way to Washington. It’s a powerful symbol. The people’s train is about to leave the station. Everyone should get on board.