Today, before millions of people live and following on television and online, as Barack Obama takes the oath of office for his second term as president of the United States, he will place his hand on the bible of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He will assume his second term in 2013, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s famous March on Washington for jobs and his “I have a dream” speech. It’s also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
There will be joy and elation among the people -- a new anticipation of hope and change will be in the cool air of Washington, D.C., around the country, and across the globe.
But it will be a daunting, challenging four years ahead -- witness the incessant winds of resistance that reared and nearly pushed the country’s economy over the fiscal cliff and now endanger upcoming negotiations over the budget.
There is a somber undercurrent to this year’s inauguration, with the horror of mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut, still fresh in our minds, reminding us how fragile our futures are. This tragedy has put a renewed focus on efforts to renew the ban on assault weapons, take on the NRA and gun lobby, and enact sensible gun control laws that our communities demand.
Dr. King would turn -- as he did in 1963 at the March on Washington -- to the unfinished business of our movement: We are free from slavery and segregation is illegal, but we are far from our goal of racial equality and economic justice. Racial disparities and poverty abound -- a moral disgrace for the richest, most resourceful and powerful nation in the history of the world.
I observed in 2008 that the election of President Barack Obama was a transformative, redemptive moment for our nation -- it showed the best of our nation, a rainbow nation coming together. But the forces of hope and change were met harshly by a confederate–like opposition and fanatical obstruction not seen in many a decade, intent on blocking each and every step toward change and progress.
There is unfinished business in our land.
Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, endangering the future of our youth (and their parents, who co-signed the loans). Too many are at risk from guns and violence. The courts have threatened to strike down affirmative action and our historic Voting Rights Act.
While the banks are getting off with soft settlements, 4 million homeowners remain in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. Remember, it was just four years ago that their unregulated practices and greed drove our nation into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
While much progress has been made, when President Obama places his hand on Dr. King’s Bible today, he will look out on an America not unlike that of 1968. Too many own and have too much; too many have too little. We need a plan for urban renewal, to reinvest in America and put America back to work.
The year 2013 will be a year to continue the struggle to fulfill these broken promises. It will mark a fertile new season for struggle. We can learn from Dr. King. He steadfastly advocated to end the Vietnam War and to expand the war on poverty at home. He did not follow opinion polls; he led and shaped opinion. Dr. King would be at the forefront of forging a 2013 movement; he would continue to beat the drum for justice.
Above all, he would implore us to measure our work by how we treat the least of those among us, and how we make progress in ending poverty and bringing peace to the world -- and to have faith, knowing that God has the power to see us through, and joy will cometh in the morning.
Keep Hope Alive.