Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Is a Good Day

I was born in 1960. John F. Kennedy was assassinated on my third birthday -- one of the earliest memories I have, my parents (Kennedy liberals if ever there were any) sorrowfully telling me that I'd have to be a brave little man and put up with the cancellation of my birthday party. My childhood was a jumble of confusing imagery of terrible war in some place I'd never see, and riots and killings at home. I had some firsthand experience of institutional racism, I knew what the riots were about. The idea that black people were treated as second-class citizens seemed utterly absurd to me on its face. But there seemed to be a notion floating around that progress toward justice was inevitable, that what we needed to do was simply put our backs to the collective wheel, and things would work out OK.

Ronald Reagan was elected within a few days of my 22nd birthday. I was even then too young to know the full implications of his rhetoric -- his declaration that liberalism was dead, that the notion that the government was a benign force for the common weal was outdated and extinct. I thought of this as just a swing of the pendulum, that it would swing back to the side of the good.

I just didn't know it would take 25 years. (And, for that matter, I don't know if the pendulum actually has swung back. This feels like a beginning, not an end.)

And I couldn't have known how much thoroughgoing, vile, clear-eyed, deliberate evil would have to be perpetrated by the opponents of the idea of benign government before people's eyes would be opened, and the agents repudiated.

This thing took my entire lifetime to happen. This cycle lasted nearly fifty years.

This is a very good day indeed.

As I was walkin' I saw a sign there
And that sign said, "No Tresspassin'"
But on the other side -- it didn't say nothin'!
Now that side was made for you and me!

(Did you know Woody Guthrie lifted that melody from an old black Pentecostalist hymn called "When the World's on Fire"? Well, now you do.)


giggles said...

Aaaaaaaaawwwwwwww, Neddie what a birthday.....

I saw Pete on Sunday night...that was the best part of the whole show and it was all good! ...blubbered through the whole show actually.... My oldest kept looking over to see if I was still cryin... (yes, I was....)
I hope that someday they will understand the importances of this day.... (I'm staying home from work to watch it all.... sssssshhhh, don't tell anybody)

Jim said...

Thanks, Neddie. Somehow the song broke through my touch exterior and gave me chills, once again.

And I always loved that verse about the sign the best. It's a shame it gets omitted so often.



sluggo said...

a choir opens the show at 10 eastern with Hymn to Freedom by O.P., and I am unexpectedly blubbering. Unable to work, I turn to the jingosphere.

A friend from Upper Canada is there, reports a vantage point in the center of the crowd, 80 yards from the stage, just under the boom arm camera. I wish I had gone with him...

odiose and hasta la vista

Marleymom said...

Amazing! Pete Seeger is 89 and was blacklisted and persecuted by his government and yet...here he is, singing Woody Guthrie, another blacklisted artist for all the world to see. It is a good and new day.

Dede Donahue


davidspeller said...

A very warm and most heartfelt congratulations from we Canadiens here in Lower Canada. Great ceremony, great speech, great crowd, wonderful day. Cheers!

ade said...

I must admit to a moistening around the eyes as yer man was sworn in. I must also admit to commenting
"Yeah, fuck off you useless shitbag," as Bush Jr's helicopter lifted away after the ceremony.
Did you go down there to watch proceedings, Ned?

JC said...

It's a good thing that you majored in Religion, and not history. What is it with you and dates? Unless you are now 50 years old, which I seriously doubt, Reagan was elected shortly before your
20th birthday in November 1980, not your 22nd birthday. In fact, your tale is all the more poignant when you consider that you were 2 years younger than you thought when he got elected.
Anyway, like you, my parents were Kennedy liberals. Both Kennedy assainations are still burned into my memory, and I also had the weird privilege of attending the Woodstock festival at the age of
9. I spent the summer of 1973 watching the Senate Watergate Hearings on television. While my buddies played Ringolevio and basketball, I seethed with outrage in my parents living room.
I kept a chart in which I recorded the names and positions of each Nixon administration official as they were indicted, and then subsequently convicted.
As you might guess, Reagan's election in 1980 was pretty hard for me. I found myself a liberal in a conservative country that, IMHO, had absorbed all of the wrong lessons from the previous 20 years.

OK, I know, there is a certain romance to being an outsider. But, as I think you are saying, while I have had an interesting life, I can't help but wonder what my life might have been like if I had not spent my "best years," from 20-48, living during the zenith of the conservative movement in the US.

But seeing Pete Seeger yesterday made see these last 28 years (not 26, Neddie; I've kept count)in a different light. Hell, Seeger was blacklisted. Now he is singing for thousands of people on the Mall to celebrate the inauguration of the president I supported. How f&*%ing beautiful is that?

Maybe we can use what we have all learned as outsiders these last 28
years to make this a better place. Maybe I am being naive, but today I feel that, after 28 years, we are entitled to a little bit of starry-eyed idealism.

Neddie said...

Yeah, JC, you're right, and it looked funny when I posted it, but didn't think hard enough about it. Reagan was elected in 1980, not '82, which screwed up my calculation. I was nearly 20, not 22.

Now he is singing for thousands of people on the Mall to celebrate the inauguration of the president I supported. How f&*%ing beautiful is that?

And singing a song derived from a hundred-year-old black Pentecostalist hymn, which I find particularly wonderful. Everything's woven together.

giggles said...

Everything about all of this is beautiful.........

thestoic said...

I never get too old to believe in redemption. In fact, the older I get…the MORE I believe in redemption. And along with all the other lovely things we saw today, I think we saw these puffy, phlegm-rattled United States take a sprightly shuffle in that direction, one not seen in our (nearly) half century.

Neddie said...

Did you go down there to watch proceedings, Ned?

Nah. I live a good long way out of town, and the idea of trying to finesse the restrictions placed by the Secret Service (all bridges from Virginia into the District closed down, e.g.) made the prospect unpalatable. Instead we lit a fire in the grate and snuggled in on this very cold day to watch it on the teevee. I think we had the best seats in the house. And everybody chez Jingo was misting up, Sixties-remembering adults most of all, I think.

I think the thing I'll remember best was Aretha Franklin's magnificent hat. And didn't Rev. Lowery's benediction make Rick Warren look like the miserable, greasy punk he is? Good God, y'all! Obama trying not to crack up during "when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around... when yellow will be mellow...." Priceless!

Will Divide said...

In the version of the song I know, the sign said "Private Property."

Oh, and did anyone else get the feeling that each time Obama paused in his address today, he could have added "So fuck you, Dick Cheney"?

Today was made for you and me.

Connie said...

As a member of my high school's Young Democrats and for Kennedy's re-election, I canvassed neighborhoods in western Iowa in the fall before he was assassinated. I was 15 years old. My canvassing partner was a Negro (that was a term of respect then)classmate. Each door we knocked on opened and was immediately slammed in our faces. I said, "Dennis, this town is full of Republicans." He said, "Why don't you wise up?" Of course I finally did wise up, but it took me awhile. I was sitting in bookkeeping class when they told us that Kennedy had been shot, and I was in choir when they told us he was dead. The choir director then lifted his little baton and said, "Now we will sing 'God Of Our Fathers' to practice for the Thanksgiving program." I started sobbing and he came over, looked down at me and said, "Do you need to leave?" Disgust was all over his face. Something died in me after that, and in 1968, when they woke me to tell me that Bobby Kennedy had been shot, I made a decision to never bring kids into this world. And I never did. And I never got involved in politics again until Obama came along. Now it's too late to have kids. Oh, well, at least we have a real President again. Amen!

Matti said...

Neddie. Your old friends in Scandinavia joined in the celebrations on Sunday and Tuesday, a bit envious. Why, oh why don't we have any politicians that could inspire anybody outside their own party offices. They don't even try to master the art of oratory, because they know they would be laughed at.

I'm pretty sure Obama was referring to some of us Europeans when he mentioned the cynics and the nonbelievers. Thanks and congratulations, U, S and A!

BreadBox said...

How do you do that? Post just what
I want to say, but say it better than
I could ever say it?
You're a few months older than me,
and with miserable, but important
birthday memories that I lack: but
we see this whole cycle through
similar eyes.