On August 28, I watched awe struck as President Obama stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under a clear blue sky addressing a crowd lining both sides of the reflecting pool. The master public speaker he is, he had them. He quieted them down, garnered their interest and riled them to a crescendo. He owned the day, the subject and the crowd.
When I hear others claim President Obama doesn’t do enough to help our cause I look askance, away into a silent distance. The greatest part of success is just showing up; President Obama showed up.
There was a stark absence of Republicans, all of whom apparently declined invitations, on the dais commemorating the 50th anniversary of the MLK led March On Washington. For a party muttering about broadening their base this seemed a seminal fence mending opportunity, an event occurring at the feet of the first Republican president in front of a crowd of the dispossessed of every ilk.
The Washington Monument, regularly caught by panning news cameras, at the other end of the Reflecting Pool stood enshrouded in scaffolding from cornerstone to pyramid. Cameras showing the crowd often brought the enshrouded monument on screen and my initial reaction was it’s such a beautiful sight on such a moving day it’s a shame its scaffold covered.
Then in the middle of his speech the president began his list, “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African-Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, for gays, for Americans with disabilities”; he always makes a point of being inclusive. He always makes a point of speaking the names and adding legitimacy to discriminated minorities.
When the camera panned next and brought the enchained Washington Monument on screen again, I knew the picture was not diminished by the repair job being done. I knew the picture was perfect. I knew the Washington Monument under repair from a recent earthquake and enchained by worker’s scaffolding melded and fit perfectly with the day, the subject and the crowd.
Many of our greatest hopes as a nation are immortalized in that perfect obelisk. Many of our greatest hopes as a gay culture are alive in President Obama. Many of our greatest dreams as a discriminated minority are quashed still by fear and hate as enchained as the Washington Monument in its scaffold.
As with the scaffold one day our fear will scale down, one rung at a time. In 1963 MLK stood on those steps and said “all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands…” Today another black man stood on those steps as the leader of the free world and added gays to the list.
The March on Washington in 1963 was a momentous and historic occasion, a moment when America decided to make one of those once in a century social adjustments. The fruits of that August day have been engraining in our culture for half a century and even today the rate at which acceptance and integration grows is amazing; no matter the efforts of those who would prefer we simply stepped back in and shut the door.
Our journey has never been easy; no journey down the road to equity has ever been. Yet in our very recent memory rights and responsibilities for gays have exploded. Our long battle is on a tear supported greatly by the words and actions of President Obama. A president we have because fifty years ago a discriminated minority pulled together and peacefully insisted on their inalienable rights.