Saturday, January 17th, 2009.
The situation in Gaza is always enraging and frustrating but this time around, there’s extra rage and extra frustration. Because this time around, we almost have a shiny new president who has the potential to make a difference even if it's simply altering the laughable pro-Israel rhetoric. But he hasn't yet. It's becoming increasingly difficult to continue defending my support of him to my people. I hear, "My presidential candidate is on a boat trying to deliver medical supplies to Gaza. What's yours doing?" So I prepare for my trip to inauguration with mixed feelings. Don't get it twisted; I am not expecting President-elect Obama to do everything right. Nor did I vote for him because of his policy on the Middle East. But I guess I did get wrapped up in that HOPE business and expanded it beyond our borders. I spent the day making 2000 copies of bright red signs that say "I (heart symbol) Gaza," for another New York City rally that I will not be attending because I will be in DC to welcome the new president. Oh, and yes, I DID make the copies on the man's dime. Not reparations this time, but redistribution of the taxpayer dollar.
Sunday, January 18th, 2009.
We get to bed by 1:00AM after planning for the morning. The bus leaves from Port Authority at 8:30AM. The line waiting for this bus is inspiring and I start to get excited. It's like all the people of color in NYC are heading to DC. There are 54 people ahead of us (I did a quick count and got made fun of for having stereotypically good math skills) and dozens more behind us. Traveling with great friends was mad fun, relaxed, the perfect trip. We spent half the time trying to figure out how to add one another to blackberry messenger.
At the Greyhound station in DC, waiting for my cousin to pick us up, we decided to eat. I looked at the menu and realized that the fish sandwich was the only thing I could get. I was in the presence of great friends and I am an adult now...but I didn't want to order it. I was sure someone would make a comment. I haven't felt this way since we took that field trip to the Milwaukee Zoo in 8th grade and made a stop at Burger King for lunch and I was with all those white kids that insisted on calling me “Fat mama the Saudi Arabian girl that doesn't eat non-Kosher meat.” Idiots. I've been ordering fish ever since without any problems, but for some reason, I was nervous today. Nervous of being made fun of, nervous of it taking longer to make than everyone else's food. There was that time Dad took us kids to Burger King (8 of us cousins) and ordered 8 fish sandwiches to which the cashier responded, "You know it's not Friday, right?" Funny how long emotional hurts from childhood can stay with people. How dare people question the effects of human tragedies on entire and continuous generations? I ask my buddy what he's going to order, he says, "the fish of course," and I realize that eighth grade is long gone. Not surprisingly, the cashier says, "that's gonna be at least 20 minutes." TWENTY MINUTES? We order 1 fish sandwich for me and 1 chicken sandwich for him and we are confused as to why they can't just deep-fry both pieces of fish together hence taking 10 minutes for both.
The cashier gives my friends a hard time with their credit card receipt. "Sign so that every letter in your name is legible." Who signs their name like that? She then turns around to her coworker in the kitchen and says, "I love my job. I can tell people to do whatever I want." Of course my immediate reaction is, put your fist up woman! Good for you, take control of whatever power you have and own it. I love my friends because they instantaneously corrected my perspective and reminded me that the woman's mind was colonized into thinking she had any power at all and this was another one of the man's games to keep us all down and in dead end, apathy building, motivation killing jobs. It was the delusion of power.
We head to the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial and traffic was a mess. We assumed we'd be able to park at GWU because my cousin is a doc there, but they were not letting anyone in the area. Apparently, medical personnel had been told on Friday that even ambulances would not be allowed on the streets and sick people would have to be carried in! WTF.
It's amazing the effect crowds can have on individuals. It makes me think that claustrophobia is another invention of the oppressor. Think about it. Those in power fear crowds. Crowds signify unity of purpose. Masses and masses of people were moving through the streets around the National Mall, trying to find an entrance onto the grass and in front of a jumbotron because they sure as hell weren't going to get anywhere near the stage at this point. There were over 500,000 people already assembled to hear this star studded musical extravaganza. My mom kept calling me with random facts she heard on CNN, one of them was that there were more cops in DC this weekend/week than soldiers in Afghanistan. Security is serious.
I was slightly weirded out by the energy; the unity and celebratory feeling was a bit off. For example, hearing Bon Jovi sing "A Change Gonna Come," was just weird. Bon Jovi sang it just fine...I think the whole concert had a bit too much of that post-racial feel and that was freaking me out. Yes, yes, Bono gave a shout out to Palestine. But he also gave one to Israel. No, I don’t think he HAD to do both; no one HAS to do anything. I am not going to be sooo thankful to Bono for saying what he did. Go rebuild bulldozed houses in Jenin buddy, and then we can talk about the “Israeli Dream.” As we walked out, there were so many "We Have Overcome" signs floating and "Yes We Did," signs. The "Yes We Did" has recently left me uncomfortable because it feels too much like the colonizer giving independence to their colonized nation; we put this man in office, without us, he never would have gotten there, we are now open minded, we have ended racism. I get upset when I hear white folks say "Good Riddens Bush," not because I don't agree (because I definitely agree), but because shouldn't we be focusing on "Welcome Obama?" President OBAMA. I started to say that in my head over and over and over again as we walked from the mall to the Metro and all the feelings from November started to come back.
Monday, January 19th, 2009.
President OBAMA. President Barack Hussein Obama. My cousins and I go for lunch at a South Asian restaurant in Arlington and it feels different. The usual immigrant pride is not there. The usual, "we are better because we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps," is not there (or at least I can’t feel it today). Ethiopian cab drivers come in and out grabbing kabob sandwiches and bottles of mango juice and everyone is friendly to one another. Helpful. Open. Yes, Ethiopians are immigrant and not indigenous. I hear mutterings, "His middle name is Hussein," "Ha, jee, his father was Muslim," "Ha jee, he is one of us." Internalized oppression is so frustrating; oppressed people will scrounge to make even the most distant connection with the most distant symbol of power. I’m upset because I feel like my privileged South Asian folk are trying to lay claim to someone they would’ve joined in on hating if he wasn’t about to become the most powerful person on the planet. On the other hand, it's cool that everyone can feel a connection to this man who is about to become the most powerful person on the planet.
So many people are in town that we are able to have reunions! I met up with my peoples from the University of Wisconsin at the Chi-Cha lounge in wildly gentrified Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights (not sure which one) and it was fantastic. All these wonderful activists, people who had transformed my thinking, made life livable on campus. Together again after 5 years, for an event so historical, that we didn't even reminisce about the days we drenched ourselves in red paint and laid down on University Ave for anti-war demonstrations; or the days we held secret meetings that required passwords to get in plotting the takeover of student government; or the days we watched the Chicano studies program turn into a full fledged department. No, we talked about the future; about our kids growing up watching a Man of Color fly around on Air force One; seeing the media go crazy over 2 little African-American girls; having a F A B U L O U S Blackamerican woman be the role model for American women. The University of Michigan reunion was at The Science Club. It was less intimate, more club-style, but still fun. It was great to see my fellow organizers as we had all come together around this man, this event.
Tuesday, January 20 2009.
On 4 hours of sleep, I wake up at 4:00AM. My cousins, the most hospitable people on the planet, have made halal burgers for my friends and me. There weren’t too many people at the Courthouse station. In fact, it was eerily quiet. But when the train approached, it was standing room only. New Yorkers are so good at navigating crowded trains. DC/visitor folks were just confused. I got off at Federal Triangle. I waited on the street for about 20 minutes for my friends who were 5 blocks away. They called, stuck in crowds, and told me to go on. We never ended up meeting up because they were continually being blocked from entering the mall, moving to other possible entrances, only to be blocked again. DC had no idea how to control these crowds. Freeways had been opened up to pedestrian traffic, streets as well. I now truly understand what “sea of people” means. I entered the grassy area by the Washington Monument. There were thousands of people; since I was by myself, I was able to quickly maneuver my way through the crowds. When I got stuck, I would move left, jump a fence or two, and swiftly jog forward alongside the wall of port-a-potties. Good Lord I’ve never seen so many port-a-potties. I kept picturing someone tipping one over resulting in a massive, disastrous, tragic, hilarious domino effect and giggled as I continued to head to the front of the non-ticket holder section.
I made it all the way to the front and had a good view. I could see the capitol building directly ahead of me and there was a jumbotron within eyeshot as well. It was 530AM and freezing. People are singing and dancing to stay warm. The Electric Slide, the Cha-cha Slide, the Soulja Boy, and some white folks were singing and dancing to Stayin’ Alive. I’m calling my peoples; phones are working intermittently. I think I remember reading somewhere that phone towers were going to be jammed to reduce interference with satellites that are somehow connected to the security honing devices sewn in the President’s suit. I’m starting to feel a bit nervous that I might end up experiencing history by myself.
Two older, extremely sweet African American gentlemen introduced themselves to me and we got to talking about why we are here so early, how we got there, our life stories, etc. You know, the usual conversation one has with strangers at 5:30AM at the National Mall waiting for the first Black President to make his appearance. They had both been friends for 20 years and were watching the concert on TV Sunday night back at home in LA when they turned to one another and said that they would never forgive themselves if they missed this. They booked tickets Sunday night for Monday morning, flew from LAX to Reagan, slept in a car Mon night and find themselves here, now.
Spending the day with them was the best possible way I could have spent inauguration day. I learned about their involvement in the campaign, their kids, their parents, how much this whole thing means to them. It was a strong reminder of why I voted, campaigned, and admire President Obama. Yes, the international condition of my people abroad sucks. But the national condition of my people of color also sucks. I cannot stress enough that we are not in a post-racial society. Ward Connerly is still an idiot. But there is something to be said for young Black high school students in Brooklyn feeling like they can be president some day. When the men and women of the civil rights struggle can feel redeemed. When the babies being born this year will grow up watching a Black man lead this country of white people with a history of slavery, the KKK, and institutionalized racism. I was reminded of the GED graduation ceremony on Rikers Island. I was honored to address the graduates. I can’t remember everything I said, but I ended it with, “this GED is only a stepping stone for you. When you get out of here, I want to hear about each and every one of you as you become lawyers, engineers, doctors, architects, writers, and hell, President of the United States.” Lets just say the cheers in that small auditorium in the decrepid prison-industrial complex of NYC paralleled the booming reverberations of 3 million people in Washington DC on January 20, 2009.
“But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways…But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.” President Barack Obama, #44.