Given the countless inauguration balls, galas, happy hours, club events and afterparties that took place over the weekend, it’s easy to assume that nothing of substance occurred. That assumption would be wrong.
For many African-Americans who attended the various events, inauguration weekend was also an opportunity to network with other like-minded folks, to talk policy and politics, to map out agendas for getting issues important to the Black community addressed by the Obama administration and Congress. It was also a chance for organizations to showcase their work and promote their causes at a time when the attention of media organizations from around the country and around the world were laser focused on Washington.
As a result, there were daytime panel discussions about policy issues, events organized by political action groups, breakfast and lunch gatherings. And even when people were club-hopping or bouncing from one formal ball to another, serious discussions about what comes next were never that far away. Young people in particular seemed especially engaged.
“I hope Obama pushes the envelope this time,” said Farrin Stanton, 26, who attended the African American Church Inaugural Ball with her younger sister. “I know he compromised a lot last time.”
Stanton of Baltimore wants the president to be more aggressive about reforming the immigration and health care systems. Her sister, Breonna Stanton, 22, hopes the president will take a stronger stand on foreign policy issues in his second term.
“We’re not paying enough attention to China as a rising power and a strong economic force,” she said.
Domestic issues and Black political empowerment dominated the discussion at a breakfast gathering held on the Sunday before inauguration day.
“Don’t for a second live for the historical moment,” Roland Martin, the popular political pundit, told the gathering of mostly young professionals, entrepreneurs and political activists at the event called, Forward: Presidential Brunch. “Once it’s over, we cannot operate like the inauguration parade is still going on.”
The event was organized by The Young and Powerful Group, which was behind a national grassroots effort that raised some $250,000 for Obama through The Young and Powerful Political Action Committee.
Martin urged the audience to pick up the mantle of political activism once led by their elders that made it possible for a Black man to become president of the United States.
“You didn’t elect President Obama for him, you elected him for you,” Martin said. “We have to have the courage to say, ‘We voted for you, we helped finance you, and now we want something back. This is our issue, this is what we want.’”
Michael Eric Dyson, the author, social/political commentator and Georgetown University Professor, and Ben Chavis, co-founder and president of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network also spoke at the event.
No matter the venue or time of day, whether at an exclusive invitation-only ball or along the parade route on inauguration day, African-Americans spoke thoughtfully about what they wanted, hoped for, expected, or would demand, from a second Obama administration.
“I’d like to see affordable college education for everyone,” said Wilma J. Taylor, a registered nurse from Tennessee. “It’s become unattainable for so many. I also want the health care needs of the elderly to remain a priority and Medicare and Social security benefits continued.”
Mindful that the president was hampered by brutal economic challenges at home, wars and other international crisis overseas, and a hostile opposition party in Congress, many Black supporters believed they had to be patient and give the president time to work on these and other issues in his first term. Now with the president in his second term — also routinely referred to as a lame duck term for obvious reasons — they are speaking with more urgency about what the president can and should do to improve the lives of African-Americans who overwhelmingly supported him and helped him win reelection.