by Gara LaMarche
January 14, 2021
Inauguration Day and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday are a few days apart this year, and the juxtaposition is particularly striking. In 2009, as we inaugurated our first Black President, the confluence seemed poetic. In 2017, when Trump took the oath, his election fueled by a white supremacist backlash to the Obama Presidency, it seemed like a cruel joke. In 2021, with our very democracy on the line, the connection is stark: despite the high ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which have inspired so many here and around the world, America was founded on a racist bargain enshrining slavery; the gains of a civil war were unraveled in 1876 by a racist bargain to end Reconstruction (made to resolve a disputed election), ushering in nearly a hundred years of Jim Crow and segregation, accompanied by systematic racial violence; and in the past year we have reckoned yet again, Black lives regularly snuffed out by state violence, with this toxic legacy. The insurrection in the Capitol last week, with nooses and Confederate flags in the citadel of democracy, was just the starkest manifestation of its continuing virulence.
So, we persist. We inaugurate a new Administration, a Black Asian woman taking her place first in line for the Presidency, and we celebrate. Yet we do so with a heightened sense of the occasion because it is no longer possible to take the peaceful exchange of American power for granted – not when we have a domestic terrorist movement whose idol has occupied the White House for the last four years, not when a substantial part of one of the country’s two political parties has essentially abandoned democracy, relying on mobs and suppression of voting to perpetuate minority rule.
President-Elect Biden and others, for understandable reasons, wanting to lift our aspirations and call us to our better nature, have spoken of the events of the last week – of the many wretched low points of the last four years – to proclaim, “this is not who we are.” I would like to believe that, but have a harder time doing that in these very challenging days and given the history I’ve described. What I do know is that this moment, and the critical months and years to come, will tell us who we WILL be.
Anyone who wonders if elections have consequences should contemplate the imminence of Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders and Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown – and of the DA’s stepped-up focus on the economy, which is critical not only for the lives and health of millions but to any hope of an enduring political majority. In addition to this work, we need a greatly heightened focus on protecting democracy itself, building on the work our community did last year. What we can do in the next two years to expand democratic participation through federal and state legislation – from HR 1 to the John Lewis Voting Rights to DC statehood and much more – will play a huge part in determining the answer to my question above: who WILL we be?