This week, people around the world waited with baited breath as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America with his Vice President, Kamala Harris. After leading a long and difficult campaign against Donald Trump, whose presidency in itself was a tumultuous ride, Biden would finally be given an opportunity to act on the major changes that he promised to make if he were elected. In the aftermath of Trump’s resistance to leave the Oval Office, many global spectators were concerned that the inauguration of Biden was likely to end with a bang, some sort of final pushback from the scorned ex-president. As masked and socially distant public officials arrived at the scene, we watched and prepared for a pivotal day for a country whose recent history had topped news headlines with negativity and fear. But, January 20th seemed to fly by without a hitch and instead we were graced with a new Bernie Sanders meme. If you missed the presidential festivities, below are some notable and interesting facts about the event.
- Amanda Gorman’s inaugural speech: America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate did her job by finding the right words at the right time (Gompertz, 2021). The five-minute reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb” called upon American citizens to unite together and put behind them the fear, loss, and division that had rocked the year 2020 (and approximately 250 years of U. S. history). She finished the poem the night after the storming of the Capitol building earlier this month and mentions that “we’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.” She went on to say that, “somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.” Her words rang powerfully as memories of Black Lives Matter protests, a historic number of job losses for minorities, and major pockets of a racially discriminatory population that were exposed to the rest of the world through violent outbursts and harsh testimonies replayed in the minds of every listener. She finished by reciting that, “We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. When the day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
- America’s first Black and South Asian, female vice president: Don’t let this slip past you unnoticed. She represents millions of women that have been overlooked, historically underrepresented, and systematically ignored with colonial fervour. This barrier could not be broken in a more timely manner, following the reign of a president whose era was buoyed by social ills including the deep vein of White supremacy. Kamala Harris has led a lifetime of barrier-breaking accomplishments in her career, from becoming a San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general to the second-ever Black female US senator. She stated in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last fall that, “The fact that I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me… Women and men who believed so fiercely in the promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all.” She closed her speech with the statement that, “every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities, and to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they’ve never seen it before. But know what we will applaud you every step of the way,” (CNN 2020).
- Biden took the first steps to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor: Sure, the inauguration itself was exciting, but aren’t we all curious to see what this new president has to bring to the people? In under 24 hours, CNN began reporting that President Joe Biden began finalizing approximately 17 executive moves to aggressively undo some of Trump’s signature policies. His first directives sought to address the coronavirus pandemic, halt funding for the construction of Trump’s wall, reversed the travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment Trump spent years attempting to ignore. As with any new president-elect, we wonder if he can keep the wind in his sails for the duration of his presidency. Is this just a one-time expression of animosity towards Trump’s violently bigoted era or is Biden capable of making changes that encourage education, diversity, and health for citizens of all cultures, backgrounds, genders, and finances? His first actions are promising and we can only hope he continues forward with the support of the American people.
There were several other moments at the inauguration. Lady Gaga sang the anthem, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks performed at the celebration, and familiar faces, such as the Obamas, attended to support their democratic representative. The day has always been acknowledged with fanfare and excitement. What did you see that was most important to you? I have outlined my top-three moments above. All three are promises for a future that the world has waited too long to embrace. When we reflect on what happens on our side of the border, we see a nation that has also experienced its fair share of racism, colonization, destruction, and pain. Canada’s own, albeit young, history is rocked with the bitter taste of bad decisions and shattered cultures. When we see a chance for change in our neighbour countries, do we ask ourselves what it will take to give us the same chances? The journey through Truth and Reconciliation is long and difficult for all parties involved. I’m not saying that the United States of America has made it there just yet. But, we’ve seen what happens when we walk the other way. The change is monumental. Right-wing or left-wing, it doesn’t matter. Change is made when the people in charge want to give everyone an equitable chance. When it happens, it’s like turning on a light. Or, as Star Wars celebrity Mark Hamill aptly put it in his Tweet from inauguration day, “it’s like going from black and white to colour” (Hamill, 2021).