Last weekend I had the pleasure to travel to Washington, DC with my brother, Dustin to attend the second Inauguration of President Barack Obama. This was my second Inauguration, as four years ago, thanks to Thom Kleiner and Congressman Eliot Engel, I was able to witness history.
This Inauguration was different; I didn’t decide to go until about a week ago, when I knew I’d be receiving tickets to the Inauguration and the Official Inaugural Ball because I was a member of the Democratic National Committee. My brother was excited to come along, and we had a great trip. We were able to reconnect with young Democrats from across the country, and I was able to attend wonderful receptions hosted by the National Jewish Democratic Committee, the Young Democrats of America, DL21C, and the Democratic Municipal Officials. We attended the Inauguration, watched the parade from a hotel room a few feet away from the street, and danced at the Inaugural Ball.
One of the highlights for me was attending the Disability Issues Ball. Dustin, an advocate for Disability Issues who is currently the chair of the Young Democrats of America Disability Issues Caucus was able to secure us tickets. It was held at the National Press Club, which in itself was an experience. We got dressed up, walked over and when we entered the room everyone around us was signing – I felt out of place, as I don’t know sign language. Luckily, Dustin does. Pretty soon the place filled up with hundreds of activists from across the country some with identifiable disabilities, many without. We spoke to Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who lost her legs in the War in Iraq and was elected to the House of Representatives in November. We also spoke to State Department officials, about the importance of Disability Issues.
There were plenty of other balls across Washington. Many states had their own: there was an Italian Ball, an Irish Ball, and an Asian Americans Ball. It seemed that most ethnic groups and states had gatherings. What was so spectacular about the Disability Ball was that it was attended by people from across the country, and even some from abroad, with ranges of disabilities who came together in celebration of the Disability Community. Disabilities are something that touches us all as Americans, whether we have a disability, or we are caring for a loved one. We in Rockland are blessed to have many agencies that work with those with special needs and that advocate for inclusion.
The President started his Inaugural address, by saying,
“What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing…”
I saw at the Disability Ball a desire to celebrate our differences and to acknowledge even the smallest successes. The pride felt for Rep. Tammy Duckworth was inspiring. I was deeply moved by the President’s inaugural address, because for me it showed us that the fights we’ve been fighting for generations are not over. We still have far to go in the search for equality, but I found these words particularly impactful:
“We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm for this Inaugural address; some thought it was too liberal, some that the President was speaking in platitudes. I hope for the future of our country, and our county, that we take pause to listen to the lessons that “We the People” have taught us, and that we still have far to go in our quest for all-encompassing equality . The President went on to say “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
The lesson of acting is what I took away from my weekend in Washington. As Americans, as New Yorkers, we must act to fight for equality. Together, when we achieve our ultimate goal, we'll know that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — the principles our founders fought and died for will be available to all who seek it.
Together, we can act to fight for those who can't fight for themselves. It's the very ideal that a preacher from Memphis, had many years ago, that we can stand up as Americans and proudly say that everyone who is a citizen of this great country is "free at last, free at last."