Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jesse Jackson Encounters Change

As President-elect Barack Obama was probably going over his speech in his head while having his morning coffee with then-President Bush, I found myself entangled in an exchange about egalitarianism with none other than the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who showed me that not much had changed yet.

The scene was 1st and D Streets Northwest, Washington, D.C., about 9 am or so, on Jan. 20, 2009. This was the second presidential inauguration I have attended.

The first was the swearing in of John F. Kennedy in 1961, when I was a child of privilege whose diplomatic father snagged tickets to a historic, if cold, perch. Fast-forward 48 years and there I was in a crowd accompanied by two very close friends, one of whom long ago was also a child of privilege with Kennedy inauguration seats.

This time, we were all just plain citizens, without strings to pull. Well, not entirely.

My friend had worked very hard to elect a new congresswoman, who had given us tickets such as the one shown here. If you knew my friend, however, you'd now that she's as regular citizen as they come.

In fact, just to prove it, let me relate that later in the day, when my friend befriended her 1,000th stranger, we had to drive this unknown woman to a very fancy mansion in the upper Northwest so she would not miss an inaugural ball. Next morning my friend confessed that her first thought upon leaving the mansion-dweller was why she was not taking her household staff to the ball.

That's the kind of egalitarianism that came into question on Tuesday at 1st and D, when a bunch of burly cops began to push and shove their way through a standing-room-only crowd. We were all waiting patiently to be admitted to the standing area facing the Capitol.

What was the purpose of this fascistoid human bulldozer? To allow the His Excellency Grand Poobah Jesse Jackson to make his way to some better spot.

"This is the ultimate in elitism," I shouted at Jackson the minute he neared where I was.

To me it was outrageous that -- precisely on a day set aside to enshrine the equality of all in the eyes of the law, through the swearing-in of the first black president -- this supposed standard-bearer of the banner of equality should make use of police power to push his way through a crowd.

Jackson turned to me and saw my anger. I like to think that for a moment the awkwardness of the moment struck him. He said, "Hey, I'm working here."

I said it was still elitist what he was doing. So he put his hand on my left shoulder and said, "It's OK, it's our day."

His voice seemed to be attempting to reach me. My friends say they felt moved.

I'll admit that Jackson was clever. He temporarily pacified me with a phrase that was deliciously ambiguous in its meaning and was delivered in the practiced tone of a preacher expressing sympathy to a bereaved family.

I still feel that Jesse Jackson did not quite get it.

Yes, January 20 was "our day." Yet, to paraphrase George Orwell, it was more "ours" to those who had phalanxes of policemen at their command, than it was the day of the rest of us.
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