mardi 2 décembre 2008


huge [hyooj or, often, yooj]
–adjective, hug⋅er, hug⋅est.

1. extraordinarily large in bulk, quantity, or extent: a huge ship; a huge portion of ice cream.
2. of unbounded extent, scope, or character; limitless: the huge genius of Mozart.

1225–75; ME huge, hoge Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

That's the word I am contemplating today. Huge.

As in huge numbers of people, paying huge amounts of money, descending on Washington, DC to cost that suffering city and its citizens huge demands on its limited resources, or as someone who has been working with us on our idea for a grassroots ball said,
"I think all the fuss is a huge waste of money that could be put to much better use than agents and hotels taking their huge cuts off the festivities, (just like [I] felt the huge sums of campaign cash could have gone to people, programs that needed it instead of the networks and media)

I wish obama would make this part of the change..........NO parties, no BALLS, just say I do and be in the office on the 20th and sign some of those really important executive orders.

It's totally out of hand and even obscene."
I am as guilty as anyone for thinking, "Obama is going to be inaugurated! Let's have a ball to recognize the effort of so many volunteers who helped get him into office, and have a chance to actually, finally meet one another. Let's make this a different sort of ball, By the Volunteers, For the Volunteers!"

But the farther you go with it, the more it looks like more of the same. At least if you are planning it in Washington, DC.

As I wrote in our fundraising solitication letter, the day after the election, Frank Greve of McClatchy newspapers wrote:
"Washington- A powerful new lobbying force is coming to town: Barack Obama's triumphant army of 3.1 million Internet-linked donors and volunteers."
And, I continued, "Our first 'official' appearance in Washington will be at our very own inaugural ball." It still sounds good, but the picture evolves and with it, our point of view.

We started out wanting to send a message to Washington, and we end up doing it the way Washington does it, becoming part of the problem descending on that city that is not just a name, "Washington", for our federal government, but a real city -- like New York, Flint, Cleveland, and Houston -- that happens to be the host to that government, a city like all those others, with its own problems and burdens to bear.

And here we come, all 3.6 million and more of us to see Barack Obama inaugurated 44th President of the United States of America!

Why? Why can we not watch this from our television sets at home? Is it because he was elected by a wave of social and political organization that mobilized unprecendented numbers to work actively for his campaign as volunteers on the "grassroots" level? Or, is it because he is America's first black president?

Perhaps it is for both reasons.

I have mixed feelings as I think about that. It's complicated if you look at it from the cultural frame of anywhere outside the United States, where it is said that race shouldn't matter and that to see Barack Obama as a black man takes away from the man he is.

It's also complicated because in the 1896 Supreme Court ruling Plessy v. Ferguson, the court upheld a Jim Crow interpretation of segregation law that said that if you were even 1/8 black, like Homer Plessy, you were black and not allowed to sit in the "whites only" section of the train. This decision rightly upset whites and blacks concerned with social justice and equality until the last Jim Crow laws fell with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

When Barack and I were in college, there was question about which blacks were "black enough" not to be called "Oreos" for "passing". The bi-racial students didn't have it easy. They weren't black, and they weren't white. Inter-racial couples had it tough, too. A lot of black women didn't take kindly to the black men who made it to college dating white women. It was understandable.

I believed that Barack was able to make the speech on race in Philadelphia he did because of the work he had to do to understand and integrate his own identity, but I was concerned every time I heard him called the man who just might be "our first black president," and, now, "America's first African-American president".

What if his mother were still living? Would he have been called bi-racial, or black? What about his grandparents in Hawaii? Did they see him that way, or as a reflection of his black father and his white mother -- their daughter -- and, finally, because they loved the boy he was, grown to be the man he is, simply as the person who is Barack?

Which takes us back to the point of view that says "race shouldn't matter." It doesn't when you know and love an individual. But, individuals are not groups, nor are they society with its human history.

Maybe all that stuff back in college was just noise. The noise of frustration and anger and continuing social injustice, but it made life hard for those subject to it.

Maybe today it will be gone, along with the pain of identity and how a person is seen and understood by society, and the groups that make up that society.

America sits on a crest, having climbed high, while at one of her lowest moments, and we have chosen to trust her steerage to President-elect Barack Obama for his judgement, his intelligence, his clarity of vision and his ability (yes, it is true) to speak in full and coherent sentences. At this moment, our economy has been declared in recession, and the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC went for $20,000 a night for a 5-night minimum during the inauguration. The other rooms? A far more affordable $2,000 a night for a 5-night minimum, and every last one is taken. Every restaurant table is booked. Money will be spent as though there is no financial crisis, while more and more Americans will be without work and income to support their families and small businesses will close, and our leaders and economists debate how best to guide us out of economic trouble and toward solutions that will make the foundation of life sounder for all Americans.

If at moments past, during difficult times, presidents have removed themselves to the silence of their offices and the solitude of their own conscience, away from the distractions and the demands upon them, to arrive at a decision that required courage, the form that the occasion of this president's inauguration should take might just be such a moment -- and an opportunity -- for Barack Obama to make a significant gesture.

Perhaps the very best way to underscore the change that has come to Washington and to our nation in a difficult hour is to break with tradition and change the way this president assumes his office and his duties.

As an American living in France, I was struck last year by the austerity of the moment when one president, Jacques Chirac, left office, and the next, Nicholas Sarkozy, assumed it. President Chirac awaited President Sarkozy at the top of the steps at the entry to the Elysée palace, as Sarkozy entered the gate and crossed the courtyard on the length of red carpet leading to the door. The two presidents met, shook hands, and President Chirac walked down the steps, while President Sarkozy walked to his office, ready to begin to do his nation's business.

Perhaps this is the time to save everyone the indecent cost of inaugural celebrations -- and the task of raising the money to pay for them --, the nightmare of protecting the president, and the stress of a city and its inhabitants, many of whom count among those whose needs are greatest.

Our new president could do that and mark this great moment of Hope in the fierceness of simplicity.
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