Amanda Gorman: A vital new voice of the struggle
Poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of Joe Biden, January 2021. | AP

The minute Amanda Gorman stepped to the microphone Jan. 20, 2021, and started reciting her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” the crowd fell silent on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol. It was Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. The audience, separated by COVID-19 protocol, was overcome with awe.

Gorman is such a slender, small, young person. Yet her voice, her words, the meaning of those words, were so poignant, cut so deep—it was like giant waves crashing on a shore.

Her poem has been published in a slim, small book by Viking, an imprint of Random House. My son Nick and his wife Maureen and their three children gave me a copy for Father’s Day, the best gift I ever received.

Why did Amanda Gorman and her poem steal the show that day? I think it is because we are the “we” in the title of her poem. It is all of us who have joined together to fight COVID-19; to turn out those 81,000,000 votes to defeat Donald Trump and put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House; to turn out the votes in Georgia to elect Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate.

And now we fight to defend the right to vote that the Republicans—and two pseudo-Democratic U.S. Senators—seek to steal from us. Gorman’s poem is about overcoming all the other reactionary diseases that afflict us—the white supremacy that Derek Chauvin takes as a license to murder African-American George Floyd in plain sight; tens of millions of unorganized workers toiling at jobs that pay so little you have to have one or two of them to pay the rent and put food on the table; the obscene income gap between the one-tenth of one percent billionaires and the other 99.9% of us; millions homeless, without health care, while the wealthy wallow in their ill-gotten billions; Planet Earth getting hotter and hotter and Trump and his fossil-fuel minions denying reality; the U.S. a “global cop” spending nearly one trillion every year to keep the world safe for U.S. multinational banks and corporations.

That is the enemy we face, the “Hill We Climb.”

Not forgotten is that two weeks before the Inauguration, domestic terrorists screaming “Stop the Steal” stormed the U.S. Capitol, broke windows, beat to death Capitol police officers, threatened to lynch lawmakers. It was an abortive coup d’état by fascists waving the Confederate and Trump flags, an attempt to nullify the votes of the multiracial majority who elected Biden-Harris in the biggest, cleanest election in U.S. history.

In her foreword, Oprah Winfrey speaks of the Inauguration and Gorman’s reciting of her poem as one of those “moments of incandescence where the welter of pain and suffering gives way to hope. Maybe even joy.”

Winfrey adds, “As her words washed over us, they healed our wounds and resurrected our spirits. A nation ‘bruised but whole’ climbed up off its knees.”

Paradox, tragic irony, is part of the power of Amanda Gorman’s poetry. It is a paradox that African Americans, descendants of chattel slaves, targets of brutal oppression today, are the best at conveying joy, hope, defiance in their music and art.

She recited that day:

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
And the norms and notions of what “just is” isn’t always justice.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished….

Echoes of Langston Hughes ring in these lines, his immortal poem “Let America Be America, Again.” He writes:

O, yes. I say it plain
America never was America to me
And yet I swear this oath
America will be!

Echoes, too, of spirituals, struggle contained in songs that seem reverent and ascetic on the surface but roar like a lion:

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt land
Tell ole, Pharaoh
Let my people go

Gorman’s poem overflows with direct, immediate, political admonitions aimed at everyone listening— the entire nation:

We will not be turned around
Or interrupted by intimidation
Because we know our inaction and inertia
Will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders their burdens.
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might, and might
with right
Then love becomes our legacy,
And change, our children’s birthright.

Buy this book and read it. It should be in the library of every family in this nation and beyond.

The Hill We Climb
By Amanda Gorman
Viking Books, 2021
32 pp.


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.