Despite a backdrop of more than 25,000 gun-toting police and National Guard troops and a chilly National Mall with waving flags instead of waving people, President Joseph Biden’s message was received by Black lawmakers, leaders and voters as a ray of hope Jan. 20.
“Through a crucible for the ages America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge. Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded,” Biden said to the small crowd gathered on the West side of the Capitol which survived a domestic terror attack Jan. 6. “We have learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
The world now watches for the President’s continued actions toward a reset after the attack from supporters of now twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, who – with Trump’s encouragement – tried to physically stop Vice President Mike Pence and the U. S. Senate from certifying the Electoral College vote for Biden. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Black leaders interviewed at the inauguration appeared overjoyed about the new beginning.
“To me this day represents free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!” proclaimed Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair emerita of the Congressional Black Caucus. “Free from racism and division and hatred. It’s a very exciting day. And maybe now we will finally get a hold to what has killed 400,000 Americans,” she said of the COVID19 pandemic that has killed Black people four times more often than Whites. “That’s what’s on my mind today.”
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who was the first to call for the first impeachment of Trump, has a specific vision of how Biden should begin racial reconciliation.
“This day brings to an end a very sad chapter in our history. But it also begins a new chapter full of hope,” he said. “My hope is, personally, that this administration will see the need for a department of reconciliation…I have a resolution for a department of reconciliation with a secretary of reconciliation whose job it will be to wake up every morning with the idea of eliminating invidious discrimination. We should have done this after the slaves were freed. But what we didn’t do then; we can do now. This is the time for us to start genuine reconciliation.”
Due to the disastrous spread of the coronavirus and because of the threat of further terrorism, the hundreds of thousands that have shown up for past inaugurations were diminished to approximately 1,000. The tight security included COVID-19 screenings and mandatory masks to protect from the virus. It also included military police and National Guard troops with long rifles to protect from terrorists. Still, those seated beneath the presidential podium pensively lifted their eyes to the sky at the sound of a distant aircraft.
To sighs of relief, the “peaceful transfer of power” that is a hallmark of American democracy continued without incident. Among the highest points was the historicity of Vice President Kamala Harris being sworn in as America’s first female and first African American Vice President. Notably, one of her escorts was Eugene Goodman the Capitol police officer hailed as a hero for singlehandedly holding back a mob with a night stick while leading them away from the U. S. Senate chambers.
National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman, 22, immediately became a social media and literary world sensation with her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” read during the inauguration ceremony:
“Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” she recited near the beginning of the poem. Her closing words: “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.”
The beauty of the day even included a surprise sprinkling of snowflakes as the small, bundled crowd enjoyed the soul stirring songs by Lady Gaga, who sang “The National Anthem”; Jennifer Lopez who sang a medley of “This Land Is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful,” and Garth Brooks who sang “Amazing Grace,” inviting the Capitol and TV audiences to join him.
“In this truly American moment, we begin anew. Democracy has won the day, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have met the moment,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), in a statement. “They will lead by precept and example and restore the calmness and courage needed to lead us out of this era of crisis and combat. Elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have come together today to celebrate this moment, and I am hopeful that is indicative of the days to come.”
Also in the audience, D.C. Mayor Marian Bowser, who made national headlines when she directed the naming of “Black Lives Matter Boulevard” near the White House amidst protests against the police killing of George Floyd, said everything Biden does now will be connected to ending the pandemic.
“Without crushing this virus, our economy won’t come back. People won’t be able to go back to work. Kids won’t be able to get back on track at school. So, crushing COVID has to be our number one priority,” Bowser said. She added that she is also looking forward to vetting the issue of DC statehood, for which Biden has voiced support.
President Biden hit the ground running with a comprehensive action plan to battle COVID-19. During the afternoon following the swearing in he signed a COVID-related bill which included mandatory mask-wearing inside federal buildings.
Strategically, his inaugural address immediately sought to put the tragedies behind. The speech did not mention the name of twice-impeached former president Donald Trump while obviously addressed the way forward after the damage by him and his supporters.
While the crowd was small at the Capitol, millions watch by live television, praying for peace and for the new beginning.
“I am cautiously optimistic that Joseph Biden – better than any U.S. President in history – has what it takes to begin the racial healing that American owes her citizens of color,” said Michael A. Grant, former president of the National Bankers Association. “Through his many years in public life, President Biden has shown a sensitivity to the plight of millions of Americans who are often overlooked. He used his status as a senior statesman to tell the whole world that he had absolute confidence in the ability of a young Black man who was to become the leader of the free world. While we should hold the Biden – Harris Administration accountable for the equitable treatment of Black people, I genuinely believe that they will earnestly seek to chart a more positive course for race relations in America.”
“As we close a dark, deadly chapter in our nation’s history where we pushed back against relentless attacks on civil and human rights, we look ahead to collaborating with the Biden-Harris administration to undo the atrocities we have all endured and create a more just and equitable future,” said Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “This consequential moment sparks tremendous hope for a stronger, brighter future where we unite, build back better, and find solutions to the very serious challenges we face.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain released a memo outlining executive actions that President Biden promised to take within the first 10 days of the new administration. They focused on four areas, including the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and the racial equity crisis.
“So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries,” Biden closed his speech. “We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be, and we must be.”