Tuesday, January 20, 2009



On inauguration day, I was riveted to the screen all day. I received a Move-on invitation to an inauguration party in Arverne-By-the-Sea (in Rockaway) that evening but I didn’t want to miss the chance to channel hop (not that the cold and snow weren’t factors). Now I’m sort of sorry I didn’t get into the spirit of the Obama call for community action. I wonder how he’ll feel if the activation of the American public leads to real protests over giving away the country to the wealthy? I certainly don’t have much hope for effective change in education based on Obama’s choice of Chicago school superintendent Arnie Duncan as Education Secretary. (More on this in future columns.)

I generally don't pay much attention to inaugurations. John Kennedy's inauguration in 1961 was unforgettable for a 16 year old. He had galvanized young people just as Obama has today. I was a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson HS in East New York. It may have been regent week and there wasn't a full program at school or schools were closed due to a snowstorm, but we were home that day. After a morning of carousing in the snow, my friends and I gathered in front of the TV to watch the speech. I vividly remember feeling embarrassed when Robert Frost's poem blew away. We listened intently to Kennedy's galvanizing words, still somewhat surprised we were actually interested in politics after the boring Eisenhower.

I'm still haunted by visions of that day connected to the stunning events less than 3 years later and the horrible years that followed. Despite the excitement of this past Tuesday’s events, that gnawing knot just never goes away. When the Obamas got out of the car, I couldn’t sit still. These feelings will never go away, as I bet they won’t for most people of my generation.

That Kennedy inaugural in you tube:

The only inauguration I attended was Richard Nixon's 2nd inaugural in 1973. We were not there to cheer. A large group of protesters went down to line the parade route to boo Nixon as he passed. I took the train with Lew Friedman. Lew was the guy who introduced me to left politics after I started working with Another View, an organization of educators based at IS 318 in District 14 (Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.) Another View is in many ways the antecedent of today's Independent Community of Educators, with some of the same people involved.

It was a cold day in DC and we stood on the parade route for hours, freezing our butts off. There were an estimated 60 - 75.000 people in DC protesting that day, a number not topped until Bush's first inaugural in 2001. We ducked into a coffee shop to grab a cup of cocoa. Just as we were paying, we heard a roar and a massive chorus of boos. We raced out and caught the tail of Nixon's car disappearing down Pennsylvania Ave. I got in a weak, hoarse boo. Even that brief moment gave us a high and the train ride home was a party.

This was all new to me, as I had missed the protests of the 60's. My first demonstration had been with Another View on May 1, 1971 at UFT HQ where we protested UFT President Al Shanker's support for the Vietnam War. In less than two years I had made up a lot of protesting time.

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