"Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote."
On hearing these trenchant words during President Obama's inaugural speech, a lingering doubt surfaced: as deserving as the president was of Time's distinctive designation of him as its 2012 "Person Of The Year" (his second accolade from Time), the award should have gone to a source Time's editors overlooked: the extraordinary men and women who stood in lines for up to eight hours, often in severe weather conditions, to exercise their constitutional right to cast their votes for the candidate of their choice for president of the United States. They should have been Time's "Persons of the Year."
The president may have harbored similar feelings. Not only did he speak up for them, but also spoke for them as one of them. He spoke of "we" 68 times and "us" 21 more. Over a speech consisting of 2,095 words and under 19 minutes, he didn't say "I" until a minute and a half before it ended, using it four times, but twice as "you and I," hence "we" -- and "my" three times, twice as "My fellow Americans," thus "we" again.
We the people, yes! More than a million of them, the overwhelming majority not seated, but standing and participating devotedly in their nation's history, just as they stood and withstood the lines guilefully inflicted on them at the voting polls. This day, remarkable not as much for the politics of inclusion as for the art and science of inclusion in inspiring action.
With Abraham Lincoln's arrival as a show business brand, President Obama is increasingly compared to him. A look at a passage from Carl Sandburg's "The People, Yes" illuminates why:
He was a mystery in smoke and flags
Saying yes to the smoke, yes to the flags,
Yes to the paradoxes of democracy,
Yes to the hopes of government
Of the people by the people for the people,
No to debauchery of the public mind,
No to personal malice nursed and fed,
Yes to the Constitution when a help,
No to the Constitution when a hindrance
Yes to man as a struggler amid illusions...
The 2013 inauguration ceremonies and festivities have concluded, but even without candidates the campaign continues. Finding votes too hard to get legitimately, 2012's Grandly Outdone Party is blatantly seeking down-and-dirtier ways to swing election results its way. The champagne on the ballroom floors was barely dry when Virginia's Republican-ruled legislature advanced a ploy to terminate the state's winner-takes-all system of apportioning its 13 presidential electoral votes to one candidate -- unsurprisingly, the candidate receiving the most votes -- by introducing a bill awarding electors by congressional district results. Does it surprise you that those districts are presently represented by eight Republicans and three Democrats? Or that wily Republican legislators in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are contemplating the same maneuver?
Last election, a voter in St. James City, Florida, reported a line of hopeful voters a half-mile long. Voters in Phoenix arrived at a polling place as early as 6:00 a.m. to find a number of people already standing outside waiting in a long line to vote, but the polling place was not open. From Alabama, Joy H. reported, "There are 26 of us in Alabama, and no ballots. Even my grandmother! She's upset. It would be her first time ever not voting in a presidential election." In Charleroi, Pennsylvania, five signs placed on barricades near a polling station parking lot announced: "NO PARKING FOR DEMOCRATS -- WALK... THAT WILL BE THE MOST WORK YOU DO ALL DAY."
Gerrymandering, unreasonable demands for IDs and challenges to voters, further flagrant transgressions -- all are egregious violations of voters' rights. Satirized Stephen Colbert,
"That's the beauty of gerrymandering -- instead of the voters getting to pick their leaders, leaders get to pick their voters."
The beauty of our democracy is that through all the ugliness of the presidential campaign and the election, the people persisted and they prevailed. The same is true of the president. He and all those who defied the obstacles in support of him are memorably intertwined.
We the people, yes!