WASHINGTON – Streets were filled with Obama memorabilia, celebrities were rolled out until the shock faded, and a gay bishop made a clear effort not to give a Christian prayer during the inaugural opening ceremony Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial. It was an event that not only showcased Barack Obama’s enormous popularity but also displayed the administration’s determination to embrace diversity.
Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay clergy to be appointed a bishop by the Episcopal Church, was the first to take the stage and also set the tone for the diverse acts that followed him.
As he had indicated in earlier interviews, Robinson steered clear of making the prayer Christian and instead addressed it to the “God of our many understandings.” He invoked the name of God to help Americans open their eyes and heart to fight poverty, discrimination and oppression.
“Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS,” Robinson said.
“Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
He ended by asking for God to keep Obama safe as president and for him to lead the “nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.”
His prayer was followed by a diverse line-up of celebrities that ranged from country superstar Garth Brooks to rock stars Bruce Springsteen and Bono. Highly anticipated R&B icon Beyonce was also among the more than a dozen music stars that helped kick off Barack Obama’s presidential inaugural festivities.
Mini-speeches delivered by a surprising group of celebrities helped to further drive home the message that the administration is all about uniting different people. Celebrities that participated in the opening ceremony, some that shocked even the media present, included Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame, Jack Black, Tiger Woods, Ashley Judd, and Rosario Dawson.
Towards the end, Obama delivered a brief speech that called his inaugural festivities a celebration of “American renewal.”
He acknowledged the difficulties the country is facing – wars, an economy in crisis, high unemployment rate – and that it will take time to recover from the various problems.
“Despite the enormity of the tasks that lay ahead,” Obama said. “I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure. That it will prevail. That the dream of our founders will live on in our times.”
His biggest source of hope, Obama said, is the American people standing in the national mall “who came here because you believe in what this country can be, because you want to help us get there.”
“It is the same thing that gave me hope in this campaign for the presidency nearly two years ago,” Obama said, "a belief that if we can just recognize ourselves in one another, bring everybody together – democrats, republicans, independents, Latinos, Asians, and native Americans, black and white, gay and straight, disabled and not – then not only will we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearn for both but maybe just maybe we may perfect our union in the process.”
America’s true character will be revealed when times are hard, Obama said. He asked Americans to help reveal that character during these tough times.
“Together, we can carry forward as one nation, as one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today.”