What’s Left – Bound Together

“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King / And recognize that there are ties between us / All men and women / Living on the earth / Ties of hope and love / Sister and brotherhood / That we are bound together / In our desire to see the world become / A place in which our children / Can grow free and strong / We are bound together / By the task that stands before us / And the road that lies ahead / We are bound and we are bound.” — James Taylor, Shed a Little Light

As I made my way through a crowd of more than one million people outside the United States Capitol Building on Tuesday morning, the opening chorus to James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light” seemed the only appropriate soundtrack for what I was experiencing. With a nation preparing to inaugurate its first multi-racial president, the song’s powerful images of a famed civil rights leader and a call to better humanity seemed all too appropriate. However, as the day progressed, it is James Taylor’s suggestion that, “We are bound together / By the task that stands before us” that best defined this very historic inauguration.

Despite the fact that my friend Lindsay and I never managed to find the perfect place to watch the inauguration from (we later ventured to the Westin Hotel and watched the entire ceremony on a large screen), braving the cold and the crowds Tuesday morning was more than worth it. People around me were speaking Chinese, Spanish and French, while others joined in chants of “Yes We Can” with regional accents that suggested they had traveled from every corner of America for this historic occasion. I was surrounded by white people, black people, Latinos and Asians — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — college graduates and people who never finished high school – heterosexual people and LGBT people — young people and old people. In front of perhaps the country’s most recognizable symbol of democracy, the United States Capitol Building, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with America.

Undoubtedly, history will suggest that Tuesday’s inauguration is perhaps the most historic America has ever witnessed. I can only hope that history will also remember the millions of people, from every corner of the world, that made the journey to Washington, D.C., to celebrate a new day for America. When President Barack Obama discussed the challenges our country faces right now he suggested only one viable solution: collective responsibility and collective action. Calling upon the American people to take action to restore their country seems like a prerequisite for every President, however I would suggest that for the first time in many years the American people were actually there to listen.

When Americans showed up to the polls in record numbers in November of 2008, they voted for hope, they voted for change and they ultimately voted for America. This unprecedented electorate presented Senators Obama and Biden with a mandate from Americans — Americans of many races, of many religions, of many ethnicities and with many dreams — to serve.

There is something very powerful in the notion of millions of people coming to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama and millions more watching on televisions across America and across the globe. I am a political junkie, and so going to the inauguration is almost like telling a child that Christmas will come twice this year; but for so many others, the trek to D.C. was much more like a pilgrimage. Drawn by the promises of hope and change, people came to witness history because they believed, for the first time, that they might play a part in reshaping America.

You needn’t look much beyond the exit poll data or the diverse crowds at the inauguration to understand how important this idea of collective responsibility and collective action is to the future of America. I don’t see much value in discussing why the Republican Party ultimately was unsuccessful at the polls this past November, but I do think it has something to do with failing to recognize the collective nature of the problems our country is confronting. “We are bound together,” as James Taylor might suggest, by issues like healthcare, education, equality, the War in Iraq and rebuilding our economy. Each of these issues will require critical, informed and thoughtful debate, but each of these issues will also require a unified and unwavering commitment from the American people; we are bound together by our collective responsibility, our collective action.