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President-elect Obama – Inauguration – a letter to America

much in common

much in common

The Inauguration of President-elect Obama – a world, not just American celebration.

The celebration of president elect Obama’s inauguration will be shared by the world. Its ethnic and racial symbolism touches all nations, all people. A black US President will mark though not an end, a key milestone on the civilising journey from slavery and oppression to equality and freedom regardless of ethnicity or colour. Nothing does the American people more credit, nor resonates with the deepest strength of your political system more than Mr. Obama’s election. It is the will of the people, through the strength of your system that has brought this about not the system alone. No lesson is timelier in dangerous times, than that in the most powerful nation on earth, power rests with the people not the state, still less the Church. Any church.

There is a profoundly important opportunity here that should not be missed. President-elect Obama is unique in another way perhaps as important as his colour. He will be the first President in American history, with no personal share in the guilt and historic recognition owed by the United States to its aboriginal peoples: its First Nation peoples, its Native Americans, its Indians. Who better therefore, than this exemplary symbol of the unity and union of a Nation at the Inauguration in January to openly recognise and acknowledge, for the first time before the world, the debt of honour and respect due to the indigenous peoples of America who were traded as slaves within its shores even before Mr Obama’s own ancestors?

I am an Englishman, always proud of my country and its union with three other proud nations. I am often less proud of my State. We have a National anthem truncated to remove offence to the Scots and still needing change to resonate with the 21st century rather than the often bloody, sometimes unworthy centuries before. National songs should recognise historical truth with courage and celebrate the future. Yours should now express the change and progress that the President-elect represents.

Mr. Obama should have the courage and vision to draw these two circumstances together at his Inauguration. He should invite one of North America’s great unsung heroines – Native American artist, teacher, philanthropist, musician, song-writer and for over fifty dedicated years, passionate advocate and activist for her people, and second to none in her love of America – Dr Buffy Sainte-Marie – to sing her recent adaptation of America The Beautiful at the Inauguration. You will know the original words: as an Englishman I had to look them up. As a European with as much guilt and historical debt of honour and respect owed to her people as any American, I say hers are much better – for the 21st century. In this way, President-elect Obama could symbolically allow, at last, after 232 years, its first people to finally ‘come home’ to an America, once theirs, now shared.

Original words in bold. New words in italics

America The Beautiful

There were Choctaws in Alabama
Chippewas in St Paul
Mississippi mud runs like a river in me
America – Oo she’s like a mother to me

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesty
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

There were cliff towns in Colorado
Pyramids in Illinois
Trade routes up and down the Mississippi river to see
America – Oo she’s like a mother to me

O beautiful for vision clear
That sees beyond the years
Thy night time sky
Our hopes that fly

Undimmed by human tears

America, America
God shed his grace on thee

Til selfish gain no longer stain
the banner of the free

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea
From sea to shining sea

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