Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Author shares his Inauguration experience

SUNY Press author Dustin Ells Howes attended the Presidential Inauguration and was kind enough to share both his thoughts on the historic event and some of the photos he snapped that day. Dustin's new book, Toward a Credible Pacifism: Violence and the Possibilities of Politics, will be available in October.

I've followed politics for all of my life, and like a lot of political scientists that habit turned into my profession. One of the major questions of political science is the nature and character of power and one of the preeminent political theorists of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt argues (controversially) that power consists of people acting in concert. Arendt seems to suggest that "real" power is different from the actions of "the mob" or militaristic demonstrations carefully gauged to show deference to a single leader. Instead, she identifies power as drawing strength from plurality and difference, that it "appears" when people are together in public space and that it involves a degree of unpredictable creativity that we associate with freedom and liberty.

I have had a number of experiences where it seemed to me as though this kind of power was being exercised. However, none of those experiences quite compare to the sense of effectiveness I felt at President Obama's inauguration. American democracy has had its ups and downs. With the 2000 election only eight years past, one could be excused for being a skeptic of the Founders' system. And even when elections work properly, there are strong arguments in favor of the idea that Americans do not so much choose their leaders as choose from among a set of people who are acceptable to the "the real" powerbrokers.

From where we stood, I could not see Obama or even a jumbotron. So instead, we listened to and looked around at the people who were there. The inauguration was a moment that gathered together and expressed the relief, frustration and joy of an extraordinary breadth of people. The civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, the hip-hop generation, church groups, college students, fiscal conservatives, curious people from around the world, soldiers, artists, scientists, and gay rights activists (who showed despite Rick Warren, but who didn't forget to turn away when he spoke). And of all these, most striking perhaps were the multi-generation families -- navigating with grandmother in a wheel chair through a crowd of thousands, with a 2 and 4 year old trailing just behind.

I expect that President Obama will disappoint a number of people who attended the inauguration, myself included, when he attempts to use violence to achieve things that are best achieved when the sort of power that brought him into office appears. However, I am encouraged in the thought that because of the long shot nature of his candidacy he will not soon forget what the power of the people can accomplish.
All photographs taken by Dustin Ells Howes.