Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

Transition Report

Posted Jan 28, 2009 at 2:51 AM
Marvin Heiferman, New York, New York

© Marvin Heiferman

Video Essays: With Students On The Ground

Posted Jan 24, 2009 at 10:25 AM
Julie Jacobson/Martha Irvine/Lee Powell, Associated Press

Watching History Unfold: In this video essay, the AP's Julie Jacobson documents sixth graders at Eagle Academy in Brooklyn, New York, as they took in President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Tuesday, 20 January 2008.

Obama Inspires Students: In this video essay, Kindergarteners through eighth-graders at Chicago's Kate Starr Kellogg public school marked the inauguration of President Obama with a school parade, poetry and essays. An AP video essay by Martha Irvine.

For students, Swearing In Is A No-Go: Some Spelman College students came to Washington for the inauguration, riding all night in a bus. But they missed the swearing-in. Still, the AP's Lee Powell found the students still upbeat.

Video Essay: "The Moment" Of Presidency

Posted Jan 24, 2009 at 10:08 AM
Associated Press, Worldwide, On The Ground

In this video essay, the Associated Press takes a look at how people around the world reacted to the moment the power of the Presidency was exchanged from George W. Bush to Barack Obama.

Elizabeth Alexander: "Praise Song For The Day"

Posted Jan 20, 2009 at 7:03 AM
Elizabeth Alexander, Inaugural Poem, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need
. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

© Elizabeth Alexander
Text Provided By Graywolf Press

President Barack Obama's Oath of Office and Inaugural Address

Posted Jan 20, 2009 at 6:28 AM
Barack Obama, Washington, D.C.

My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.  What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government. Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good. As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. In the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those, to those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: "Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Dr. King's Prediction

Posted Jan 20, 2009 at 2:48 AM
BBC World News America, British Broadcasting System, London, UK

BBC World News America has unearthed a clip of Dr Martin Luther King speaking to the BBC's Bob McKenzie in 1964 in which Dr King predicts an African-American president "in less than 40 years."

Inaugural Poems: A Brief History

Posted Jan 19, 2009 at 4:32 PM
Byron Pitts, correspondent, CBS Evening News, National

This report from CBS Evening News about poet Elizabeth Alexander also features a concise history of the reading of inaugural poems over the past half century, an event that has occured only three times before.

Children At Grant Park: 4 November 2008 (Part 2)

Posted Jan 17, 2009 at 10:13 AM
Stacey Greenberg, Vestal, New York


© Stacey Greenberg

Children At Grant Park: 4 November 2008 (Part 1)

Posted Jan 17, 2009 at 10:11 AM
Stacey Greenberg, Vestal, New York

© Stacey Greenberg

The Kline's Magic Voodoo Cookies

Posted Jan 16, 2009 at 2:21 AM
Debby and Larry Kline, San Diego, California

Our contribution to The Obama Project was inspired by PollTrack's Presidential Map.  We created a color-coded United States map out of cookies which we consumed at the home of our friends  Eleanor and David Antin while watching election night returns. We were incredibly fearful as the evening began but our cookies seemed to work like magic.

Kline's Magic Voodoo Cookies, as we called them, worked! First, Eleanor devoured Florida. As the election night progressed, every contentious state that we preemptively consumed (Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana) fell to the Democrats.  Texas was just too damn big to eat. But Woo-hoo we won the election regardless!

We had such fun gobbling up all the suspect states and cheering when they fell.  Our Obama optimism has not yet waned and while we anticipate many struggles for the country, we feel like we at least have a chance.

© Debby and Larry Kline

Election Night--Grant Park

Posted Jan 14, 2009 at 6:14 AM
Andrew Lucas, New York, New York

© Andrew Lucas

Celebrating Elizabeth Alexander, Inaugural Poet

Posted Jan 13, 2009 at 3:03 PM
University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Celebrating Elizabeth Alexander: Above is a video of the poet and cultural critic Elizabeth Alexander reading "Ars Poetica #101: I Believe," from her recent collection, American Sublime, a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize. Alexander is only the fourth poet in the history of the United States to be invited (by President-Elect Obama) to deliver a poem at an inauguration. Below is an excerpt from the University of Michigan Press website, which has just uploaded a fine celebration (and introduction for readers not familiar with her work) of Alexander. The webpage also includes a tribute to the poet from our own political director, Maurice Berger.


Turn away from nothing. Face the sun.
Evolve at any cost.
From 10. Unfinished Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks, Power & Possibility

Acclaimed poet and University of Michigan Press author Elizabeth Alexander will on January 20th become one of just four poets in the history of this country to have their poems included in a presidential inauguration. She will read a new poem at the ceremony swearing in President-elect Barack Obama, and we here at the UM Press could not be more proud. Congratulations, Professor! 

About Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York City, and grew up in Washington, DC. She received a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from Boston University (where she studied with acclaimed West Indies poet Derek Walcott), and the Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania. Alexander has read her poetry and lectured on African-American literature and culture across the country and abroad.

She has published four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot (1990), Body of Life (1996), Antebellum Dream Book (2001) and, most recently, American Sublime (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. American Sublime was chosen to be one of the 25 Notable Books of 2005 by the American Library Association, which called it "sparkling with humanity and unexpected grace." Her collection of essays, The Black Interior, was published in 2004.

In 2006, she contributed a poem and an introduction to Gathering Ground, the University of Michigan Press compilation of 10 years of work from the acclaimed Cave Canem Foundation for African-American poets, where she serves as a faculty member. In 2007, UM Press published Power & Possibility as part of its Poets on Poetry series. The book is Alexander's collection of her essays, reviews and interviews that study and comment on American literature and culture.

Her short stories and critical prose have been widely published in such periodicals and journals as Signs, The Paris Review, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The Village Voice, The Women's Review of Books, and The Washington Post. Her poems are anthologized in dozens of collections.

Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the University of Chicago, the George Kent Award, given by Gwendolyn Brooks, and a Guggenheim fellowship. In 2007 Alexander won the first annual $50,000 Jackson Prize for Poetry, which honors an American poet of exceptional talent who has published at least one book of recognized literary merit. She is an inaugural recipient of the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that "contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954."

Alexander's play, "Diva Studies," was produced at the Yale School of Drama in May 1996, and she was a dramaturge for Anna Deavere Smith's play "Twilight" in its original production at the Mark Taper Forum.

She has taught at Haverford College, the University of Chicago, New York University, and Smith College, where she was Grace Hazard Conkling Poet-in-Residence and first director of the Poetry Center at Smith College. She spent a year as a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. She is presently Professor of African-American Studies and English Literature at Yale University.

Prof. Alexander herself had this to say:

"I'm completely thrilled to have been chosen for this honor," she said in a Yale University interview. "Barack Obama is a man who understands the power and integrity of language. To be asked to turn my own words to this occasion and for this person is all but overwhelming."

"President-elect Obama has put poetry front and center, only the fourth time that this has happened at an inauguration," she told the Wall Street Journal. "It says culture matters, that it's transforming and not merely stirring, that it's fundamental to ways in which we can think about moving forward...

"Poetry, because it is language distilled and because it is also such intensely precise language, provides us with a moment of respite and meditation, moments where we have to stop and listen very carefully to every word."

What others have to say about Elizabeth Alexander:

"President-Elect Obama has made a wise choice in Elizabeth Alexander, a poet of exceptional eloquence, depth, and grace. In the tradition of James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, and Toni Morrison, she is equally adept as literary writer, social observer, and cultural critic. Her inaugural poem will no doubt inspire our nation in this troubled and extraordinary time."
—Maurice Berger, Senior Research Scholar, Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County

"Elizabeth Alexander's verse sings the plight and the power of those who struggle to survive. The smallest details of daily life, the resounding echoes of epochs, find their voices in her work. Alexander has woken us to a dream of deliverance that we share with language and music..."
—Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University

"Elizabeth Alexander is one of the brightest stars in our literary sky, a poet of poise and power. Her sharp intelligence and her knowledge of the contemporary arts make her a superb, invaluable commentator on the American scene...With her considerable poetic skills and her complex vision of American history and culture, Elizabeth Alexander is an inspired choice to play such a prominent role in the presidential inauguration."
—Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University

Ode To Joy

Posted Jan 04, 2009 at 1:45 PM
Patricia J. Williams, New York, New York

Twas the eve of the future and all through the world
An electoral battle anxiously swirled.
The votes were all marked with unusual care
And still there were cases of ballot despair—
Whole graveyards were voting, or Elvis was there.
Polls said the numbers were awfully tight.
Too close to call, a tie, then not quite. 
From Georgia to Texas to Oregon too,
Red on one side, the other in blue,
Every constituency was poised to sue. 
McCain had curled up for just one more nap,
Biden was prudently shutting his trap.
In Alaska, the Palins were snug in their beds, 
While visions of rapture danced in their heads. 
But Barack Obama pressed on through the night,
Calling for change, and to do what is right. 
When November 4th dawned, he had fought the good fight.
The people came out in state after state,
They lined up at daybreak, they voted till late.
They voted in hoards and voted some more,
They voted in numbers unseen heretofore. 
"Begone Dubya! and Cheney! and Condi, you vixen!
Out, Chertoff! Off, Rove! Stop the bombin’ and blitzin’!
To the edge of the gangplank, the waterboards call!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
Despite being black or his name being funny,
Despite fears he was secretly Muslim—a Sunni?-- 
The results that came in left nothing to spin:
Obama had managed to win, baby, win.
Destruction averted, the world’s back in line.
There’s much to be done, but  we’ll all be fine.  
The Klieg lights shining in Grant Park that night
Gave the luster of day to the faces so bright. 
So relieved of their fears, so glistening with tears,  
A heartfelt goodbye to the last eight dreadful years.

Patricia J. Williams is James L. Dohr Professor of Law, Columbia University Law School. She has published widely in the areas of race, gender, and law, film, culture, legal theory and history. She is a columnist for The Nation and the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur fellowship.