The Work Has Begun

The Work Has Begun

On a cool and bright Inaugural Day in Washington, the change an extraordinary leader has promised is beginning to be felt.


No sooner was I seated on the Amtrak train to Washington than I was joined by Joanna Lawrence, whose mother in the 1930’s famously put Esquire on the map with her article, “Latins Are Lousy Lovers,” and had been Abbie Hoffman’s companion during the last years of his life (including his years on the lam.)

Her itinerary was much more interesting than mine. It included a “shoe-in” at DuPont Circle, where those so inclined would throw their shoes at the Bush administration, and thereby “shoe them out” of office.” It also included a rally organized by Medea Benjamin, who was joined by witches from CodePink and Kate Clinton, the comedienne, whose object would be to “cleanse the White House.” Don’t Ask. And an event at the bookstore Busboys and Poets, where Joan Baez was singing and Alice Waters and others were doing their stuff.

Across the aisle were Linda Gottlieb and her husband, Rob, who told an Obama story I had never heard before. Bob is one of Obama’s bigger funders and “bundlers” (he has tickets in the coveted “yellow section” on Inaugural Day.) He told a lovely story. In 2004, after Obama’s main opponent withdrew from the Senate race in Illinois because this wife had charged he forced her to go to sex clubs and Obama handily won the election, Bob received a check from the Obama campaign, with a note from Obama, explaining that there was leftover money.

Amtrak arrived in Washington on time, and inaugural festivities were well underway, although traffic around the Union Station was at a standstill and what seemed like a half-mile line of would-be taxi passengers was instructed to move to First and G streets, if they hoped to move anywhere else. Meanwhile, as Obama was rolling Laguna Blue paint on the walls over at Sasha Bruce House, a way of participatory symbolism in his call for service, all of that part of Washington not stuck in a traffic jam, seemed to be marveling at the logistical efficiency of the Obama operation.

I’m with them. A few days before I left for DC, I received a call from Sarah Kovner, our 67th Street neighbor on Manhattan’s West Side. She had received one of the Obama e-mails calling for service and asking her to be a block captain in the cause. Sarah’s idea was that since Upper West Side food kitchens were low on food, due to increased demand, would we (the code word for Annie, my spouse) take responsibility for our building? It turned out within minutes of Sarah K.’s e-mailing back, at her willingness to take on the responsibility, she received five e-mails from people in the neighborhood (also on Obama’s list), offering their services.

So while many in the progressive community carry on the conversation about whether Obama’s surface move to the center (by way of his appointments) is a tactic (aimed at converting liberal humanist values into national policy) or a sign (that at heart he is more a political traditionalist than they had expected?) and while protesters continue to protest (hoping to push O in the right (i.e., the left) direction, the view from here–on a cool Inauguration Day in Washington, DC–is that the work has begun.

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