I sat in the cold with throngs of people looking towards the Capitol, waiting for Barack Obama to take his hand off Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.'s Bibles. He had just been sworn in and an unfamiliar anxiety was creeping up on me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion as he stepped up to the microphone to deliver what would be one of the most important speeches of his life.
His second inauguration acceptance speech. And I was nervous for him.
He had been here. Done that. But I knew that this time would be much different. I knew that the sheer power of democracy had been realized. The people had chosen their president. And no one could argue that it was because he was black. Or that he appealed to only young people who were catalyst to a growing progressive political view. Or a refreshing change to the political monoculture that we were sick of.
Obama had already played that role. This time when we chose him, he knew he couldn't do the same things. He (hopefully) has a Congress he can work with. And he knows the need to get things done is great. The talking was over. It was time to act.
No speech that Obama has given was more important than that moment. Our county is complex. It's divided. And it's reflective of our past...where men like Obama gave speeches and promises in their own perilous times.
This was his Emancipation Proclamation.
Republicans are already arguing that the speech was not designed to bring us together. But just as Lincoln faced a divided nation who argued the same, so is Obama. The parallels are great, but while Obama may not have explicitly called for bipartisanship, his second-term agenda is set to do just that.
Don't believe me? Just watch.
Obama calls for equality for all, making history as the first president to mention the word "gay" in his speech:
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
Obama wants to "turn them into us:"
“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, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”
Obama understands that we have to work together to succeed:
"Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it."
Obama's very bipartisan, not-explicitly bipartisan statement:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
Obama's reminded us of the right of equality that we need to protect:
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.
And while all of these statements are reminiscent of so many speeches in our history that have called for that same joining of hands, the time and moment of this speech speaks volumes about where our country has been, where we are, and where we hopefully are headed. Here is a black man, who was elected twice into office, giving us a speech about the same laws and the same country that once held us back. And he has the power to change those archaic ideas that still plague us today.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. 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.
The poignancy of that speech to kick off his second term...Obama's vow to guard the changes he has made and that need to be made to unite this great country...will forever be his Emancipation Proclamation, where he set America free of the obsolete ideals still holding us back.
These words will be the words we remember for our own perilous times.
Christina Coleman is the News and Politics Editor at GlobalGrind. Prior to this she was a science writer. That explains her NASA obsession. She crushes on Anthony Bourdain. Nothing explains that.
Follow her on Twitter @ChrissyCole