Here are some pretty words I heard yesterday:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths —- 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.
— Barack Obama, 2013 Inaugural Address
“Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” — whoever chose that memorable alliterative trio deserves a hefty bonus from the inaugural coffers. It sounds like namechecking: the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was where Mott and Stanton laid down the gauntlet for women’s suffrage in the US; Selma, Alabama, was an epicenter of the fight for voting rights for African-Americans in the mid-1960s; and the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, remain an iconic moment in the fight for LBGT rights. The mention of our queer equality in an Inaugural Address was a welcome first, and I must credit Obama’s doing so.
It jars, though, to hear such a paean to equality from the man who has presided over ever-widening income inequality, has deported record numbers of immigrants while letting the uber-wealthy bankers of Wall Street go scot-free, and whose FBI and DHS coordinated the nationwide crackdown on Occupy.
“Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” were movements of radicals, after all. However evident the truth of equality is today — and LBGT equality is still far from evident for a great number of people — at the time, the principles our forebears* fought for were far from the mainstream. In fact, they were violently suppressed. State troopers brutally attacked the Selma marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge; and the NYPD regularly raided the Stonewall and other bars before the patrons fought back. J. Edgar Hoover‘s FBI infiltrated on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and wiretapped Dr. King himself.
Today, government surveillance and police violence centers on radicals who challenge the dominance of capitalism and corporate predation. From Obama we have heard a few pretty words of encouragement which are belied by his Administration’s inaction — indeed its outright support of the status quo. At some time in the future, if we fight hard enough for it, socialism will seem an equally evident truth; if there is any bright side in hearing a moderate like Obama take credit for the past actions of radicals, let it be that.
*”Forebears”, by the way? Kudos for inclusiveness — but plenty of folks from Selma and Stonewall are still around, and from what I understand, there weren’t many bears in the front lines of Stonewall. 😉
clip art from the collection of Rick Wagner.