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Cape Town, South Africa
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  • Ellen Bassett


The Inauguration is over. As I write, I feel a mix of excitement, joy, and frankly, relief. A moving and peaceful day.

In 1992, I was back in the USA for a Christmas visit. I was still living and working in Kenya--this trip was an important chance to see my aging parents, visit friends and family, and enjoy some really good restaurants! (Eastern Africa is not renown for its cuisine, outside of Ethiopia.) At some point in my travels with my former partner, a Dutchman with deep American roots due to having been an exchange student, we decided to fly back to Washington, DC from San Francisco after a visit with family and friends to be part of the audience for the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton in January 1993. When might I have the opportunity again to see a President sworn in? (I followed the same logic for the seemingly magical union of Prince Charles and Princess Di in 1981. I got up at like 4 AM to watch live. After all, when might I have the opportunity to see a future British Monarch get married? The Crown has really shattered those perceptions!)

That 1993 Presidential Inauguration was exhilarating. The energy, the optimism, the (completely foreign, right now) giddy mixing with complete strangers. I'm admittedly a sucker for pageantry and tradition. (I always cry at university commencement.)

Today was also very moving and joyful on so many levels. As a female who came of age in the 1970s and was captivated and motivated by the women's movement (an early subscriber to Ms Magazine!) and subsequently devastated by the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, the swearing in of Kamala Harris as Vice President was particularly poignant. Woman! Woman of Color! (Black and South Asian!) HBCU graduate! Beautiful and elegant to boot.

I'm also happy about Joe, for sure. But, hey, let's not forget the first community college professor in the White House, Dr. Biden! Stylish one as well. Not that I can afford that designer, but she has a future!

When I compare the two ceremonies what stands out the most is the poetry. I was excited to hear Maya Angelou, back in 1993. I had, after all, read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her voice was lovely; her message moving. Today, I must admit I had not heard of Amanda Gorman. We all know her now. Powerful. A fresh voice. Worth listening to (here: ) and reading. The text below. (I inserted the breaks, they may be inaccurate):

The Hill We Climb:

When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade We've braved the belly of the beast We've learned that quiet isn't always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn't always just-ice And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished

We the successors of a country and a time Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one And yes we are far from polished far from pristine but that doesn't mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect We are striving to forge a union with purpose To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another We seek harm to none and harmony for all Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried That we'll forever be tied together, victorious Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree And no one shall make them afraid If we're to live up to our own time Then victory won't lie in the blade But in all the bridges we've made That is the promise to glade The hill we climb If only we dare It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it's the past we step into and how we repair it

We've seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy And this effort very nearly succeeded But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated In this truth in this faith we trust

For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation Our blunders become their burdens But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it If only we're brave enough to be it

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