Something BIG happened on Monday, January 21, 2013. In his second inaugural address President Obama made an unapologetic link between the struggles for liberation and our nation’s evolutionary thrust.
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.
Commentary on the speech has been rich, and much better than anything I can say here. Melissa Harris Perry has an excellent piece in The Nation. I think she and others are absolutely right to stress that political oratory is a poor substitute for public policy. But she is also absolutely right to stress the important role of symbolism in constructing a national narrative – shaping the story of us.
To have our first Black President inaugurated for the 2nd time, on Martin Luther King day, at the National Mall, and to have him boldly place our political moment at the edge of the next step to liberation – THAT is symbolism that matters. Like Harris-Perry says, it was a moment of recognition and “recognition is intrinsically valuable in a democracy… mutual affirming recognition is the practice that allows citizens to operate as equals.”
I’m moved by this idea because my own spiritual practice is informed by a Sanskrit text called the “Pratyabhijñāhr̥dayam,” which is translated as “the doctrine of recognition.” In this tantric philosophy liberation is attained as we come to recognize who we really are. We have experienced a moment of recognition, and the President was wise to present it in the context of an arch. We find ourselves at the edge of history, and human history yearns for liberation. Let us turn to one another, let us recognize our Self in the other, let us step boldly into the next stage of movement.