Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday, I left the house quite a bit earlier than I needed to for my first day back teaching, because Eric and I both wanted to go to the Berkeley campus to gather with others on Sproul Plaza (a large, paved open space amidst several administrative buildings, in case you don't know Berkeley well) to watch the swearing in of our new President on a huge screen there.

Even though I fully expected a throng I have to admit I was a bit shocked by the size of the crowd, thousands and thousands of people filling the plaza, surrounding the building behind us to fill another plaza behind that and swelling further into campus past Sather Gate. Amazing. The energy was lovely, people cheered Aretha and hissed Cheney, but it was all rather good-natured, really.

When President Obama addressed the Nation our crowd applauded mostly at the same phrases I expect attracted cheers across the country -- including cheers for rather hawkish statements I personally wasn't exactly thrilled about, but that's fine, it didn't spoil the thing for me in the least.

I do think there were two moments in the speech when Obama's utterances provoked in Berkelyites spontaneous outbursts of joyous clamor that were probably not at all typical for the Nation at large, at least not at this level of enthusiasm.

The first was when Obama outlined the ecological and economic crises he has inherited and then said: "These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics." When he said subject to data and statistics, the crowd went apeshit crazy with joy. It was utterly charming and so heartfelt in its spontaneity and intensity.

The second moment was when Obama said "we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers." Apart from the lovely truth of the overall sentiment there, it was just good to hear the millions of "nonbelieving" citizens (of course, senso strictu, though, non-believers actually believe in plenty) in this secular nation of ours registered in their existence as an part of our vital plurality. Upon hearing that inclusion of nonbelievers the good people around us offered up a full-throated cheer to the heavens.

I must say it felt good to be in that crowd of my fellow Americans at that moment, especially given what an organized faith-fest so much of the debate about and then substance of the inaugural has turned out to be.

Given all that, I'll add that the Rick Warren thing turned out to be utterly anti-climactic. His speech seemed lame, as though some not very bright encyclopedia salesman had wandered briefly onto the set and muttered some apt but uninspired vacuities. When Aretha Franklin appeared right after Warren and sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" America was treated to Obama's true Invocation as far as I'm concerned (unless Gene Robinson's Invocation Sunday is taken for the true priestly kick-off whistle).

For me, Aretha was one of the real highlights of the whole thing. Another surprise -- and Eric reported the exact same reaction -- was that we agreed DiFi gave one of the best speeches of the day (that is, Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is a regular rather too corporate-militarist source of annoyance to us).

Eric took some pictures of the crowd, maybe I'll post them once the rush of week week teaching is past.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> For me, Aretha was one of the real highlights of the whole thing.

Aw, I was just listening to 're on the stereo last night.

Way back when in sixty-seven
I was the dandy of Gamma Chi,
Sweet things from Boston, so young and willing,
Moved down to Scarsdale -- where the hell am I?

Hey nineteen!
No, we can't dance together.
No, we can't talk at all.
Please take me along when you slide on down. . .

Hey nineteen, that's 'retha Franklin.
She don't remember the Queen of Soul.
It's hard times befallen the sole survivors.
She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old. . .

-- Steely Dan, "Hey Nineteen" from _Gaucho_