Inaugural address was a massive unity rally

All people of good will had to be moved by the inauguration of Barack Obama. What a beautiful image of the first family and the president guiding our nation to a better place.

A million people of all races and nationalities gathered on the National Mall to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama to an historic second term. This inaugural celebration follows one of the most contentious electoral struggles in our history as a nation. Its outcome was a victory for working people and people of color whose basic rights were under fierce attack from the Republicans.

The outcome has weakened the extreme right and pushed U.S. politics in a more progressive direction. There is a renewed confidence among millions of working people that real change is possible if we fight for it.

The inaugural celebration reflected this renewed confidence. It had the character and politics of a massive unity rally of labor and progressive movements still “fired up and ready to go.”

The speech of the reelected 44th President was a rally of his supporters still united and ready to launch the next stage of the great battle for change.

The invocation was given by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the iconic civil rights leader whose husband Medgar Evers was slain in Mississippi in 1963. She made the connection between the inauguration and the fact that this year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She spoke of the promise of America and called on all present to “act upon the meaning that everyone is included.” The fact that the widow of a slain civil rights leader was chosen to speak at the inauguration sent the message that the reelection of Obama is a continuation of the civil rights revolution.

In his speech Obama called for united progressive action against the policies of the extreme right.

Quoting the Declaration of Independence, he reaffirmed it’s basic starting point that, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

There were many firsts in his speech. For the first time the word “gay” was used in a presidential inaugural speech.

His characterization of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, as basic struggles that shaped our democracy was also a breakthrough. Of course there were many other decisive events in the struggle for democracy but the use of these three was more than just good alliteration. It raised the historic importance of the struggles for women’s equality, racial equality and LGBT rights.

In his speech he effectively refuted many basic concepts of the Republicans. He took on their attacks on the role of government and the refusal to accept the danger of global warming. He rejected the Romney notion that 47 percent of the population are “takers.” In defense of Social Security and Medicare, Obama declared, “These things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers, they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

He declared, “America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work…”

He insisted that there should be no means test for freedom and happiness. “We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm.

“We declare today that the most evident of truths is that, all of us are created equal.

“Our freedom as a people is linked to the freedom of every one on Earth.”

He laid out a list of strategic struggles that must be carried out, including struggles for women’s and LGBT equality, a struggle for a path to citizenship for immigrants, and one for protecting the right to vote.

The Republicans ran one of the most racist national campaigns in modern U.S. history. What they said and did to defeat Obama brought back some of the worst features of Jim Crow.

It was damaging to the national unity and democratic decency of the American people. But most important is the fact that the reaction to this racism was the formation of a new multi-racial, anti-racist electoral majority which holds great promise for the future of our country.

At the same time economic and structural racism has been stepped up and is reflected in the growing unemployment, poverty, homelessness and hunger. We see an increase in the attacks on public workers and on public education. There are the continued uses of repressive police brutality and criminalization, including high incarceration rates, for people of color, especially for African Americans.

I think this administration must be pushed to open the door wider on the need for a massive pubic works jobs program. We need a massive federal program to dramatically raise the minimum wage, end union busting and promote union organizing as part of an overall program to eliminate poverty.

I think President Obama shows he is moving in the right direction but he needs a mass social movement to get there.

Obama concluded his inauguration speech with, “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished, and always safe from harm.” This is a noble goal.

Despite all of this, I take exception, however, to the President’s reference to the United States having defeated communism. During the cold war era, anti-communism was the rationale for colonial oppression, imperialist aggression and war all over the world. Over those years, the people’s and nations of this planet, including the American people, paid a dear price in both blood and treasure for this anti-communism.

The use of drone warfare by our military today has taken the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians and it must be stopped. As part of the rejection of perpetual war, which Obama mentioned in his speech, this administration must be pressured to cease its use of drone warfare.

Most peace voters understand that these policies can and must be defeated and they voted for the president in sharp rejection of the right danger represented by Romney and the Republicans.

If Romney had won he would oppose Obama’s view on perpetual war and negotiations to end or prevent war. Who knows whether Romney’s right wing base would ever have allowed him to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan? Voters understood that there were big differences and that is why the Obama-Biden ticket was reelected.

Obama is right that there is yet a big battle to be fought if we are to see the future of working people and the racially oppressed secured.

But with the new divisions and crises in right wing and Republican circles, there is an opportunity to push things in a progressive direction. The president’s call for collective solutions and turning Organizing for America into “Organizing for Action” and detaching it from the Democratic Party structure was a good sign that 2014 will not be a repeat of 2010. The labor and progressive movements were not prepared for the right wing backlash that resulted in Republican victories in the 2010 midterm elections. Signs are that they will be far better prepared for the midterms in 2014.

The enormous problems we face as a nation cannot be attacked without a broad, diverse movement fighting for a progressive program.

The extreme right and the Republican Party are in a crisis because the reelection of Obama shows that the 2008 election of the nation’s first African-American president was no fluke and that the country really wants change and that a majority believes change is possible.

The Communist Party‘s view is that Obama is as strong and progressive as the people’s movement is. And the left progressive movement’s strength is not only in its ideas and opinions but, most importantly, in its ability to bring its opinions to life.

The right is still pushing its bankrupt program, despite its rejection at the polls. The unity of all the progressive forces is the key to victory. That is a big part of the election mandate. We are not going back.

Photo: The scene on the National Mall during the Inauguration Day events in Washington DC, Jan. 21, 2013. Parker Michels-Boyce, The News & Advance/AP



Jarvis Tyner
Jarvis Tyner

Jarvis Tyner is the former executive vice-chair of the Communist Party USA and a long-time member of the party's national board. Tyner has been an active public spokesperson against racism, imperialism, and war. He has written numerous articles and pamphlets and appeared on the media, campuses, and in other public venues advocating for peace, equality, and the socialist alternative.