President Barack Obama on Monday delivered a progressive and stunning second inaugural speech centered around the notion of equality.
The historic address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol before thousands of onlookers came exactly 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, on the day the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, and in the 50th year since the civil rights turning-point known as the "March on Washington."
Naming watershed moments in American history and emphasizing repeatedly the Declaration of Independence's assertion that "it is self evident that all men are created equal," Obama challenged the nation to be more forward thinking.
Specifically addressing voting rights, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, immigration reform, health care reform and global climate change, and mentioning Dr King, he reached out to both Democrats and Republicans to seize this moment together.
"Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words (Declaration of Independence) with the realities of our time," said Obama.
"For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth," Obama said
"The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed."
Obama said through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, "We learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together."
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play, Obama said.
"Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune."
Reminding the nation of the battles that were fought for the dignity of every person, Obama put it bluntly:
"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."
With rhetorical ingenuity, Obama anchored his speech on the theme of the 57th inaugural celebration, "Faith in America's Future."
"It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts," Obama said to the thunderous applause of more than a half million people.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
As the president continued with his speech, it was interrupted numerous times by applause.
"Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote," Obama said.
"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, (and) until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."
Obama zeroed in on the urban safety crisis and the debate on gun control.
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm," Obama said.
Echoing a campaign theme about the future of the middle class, Obama said, "For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class."
America, said the president, "...thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.
"We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."
After the inauguration, the Obamas stopped at the Capitol Rotunda, and before a bust of Dr. King, they paid homage to him and his legacy. The gesture was part of the connecting of historical dots that took place throughout the day and included the first African American elected president waving to floats saluting Dr. King and the Tuskegee Airmen.
(Bankole Thompson is senior editor for the Michigan Chronicle.)