January 20, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Maybe Barack Obama on this inauguration morning will spot a cluster of orange knit caps and matching scarves in the crowd. The wearers are students from the Illinois School for the Deaf.
Eighteen of them trekked from Downstate Jacksonville to Washington because they've heard, in their heads and hearts, the Obama call to action.
These students have followed the campaign from the beginning, and last summer, a couple of them pushed through a crowd to try to meet their candidate.
As KHQA-TV's Melissa Shriver reports, they were blown away when Michelle Obama introduced herself in sign, spelling out her name.
"They realized she speaks our language," Marybeth Lauderdale, the school's superintendent, told Shriver. "They feel empowered."
We, as a nation, yearn to feel empowered. And for Washington to speak our language. While politicians talk about what Americans say to each other over their kitchen tables, the government's house doesn't look a thing like normal houses, kitchen tables included.
The Capitol's corridors are etched granite, the ceilings painted in gold leaf.
On Monday, when the students from the Illinois School for the Deaf arrived at the Library of Congress to attend a reception hosted by Sen. Dick Durbin, their eyes were wide with the wonder of Washington packed with powerful people and massive monuments.
What a heady trip this town can be.
Yet the ground is shaking beneath us. And at Durbin's news conference, a woman who provides service to the needy asked if there would be government stimulus money for them. It was one of those kitchen-table questions.
By electing Barack Obama, voters sent Washington not just a wake-up call, but a shake-up call.
Michelle and Barack Obama, by devoting Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to doing public service projects and spending time with the kitchen-table crowd, sent a message about sacrifice and service.
But as Mayor Daley pointed out to reporters a couple of days earlier, in the midst of this spectacular national moment, another 50,000 people joined the jobless.
The Illinois students can give chapter and verse on life's challenges.
But they arrived in Washington this week to speak their own language of empowerment.
The challenge for the rest of us is how to be realistic but not defeated. To keep hope alive while struggling to stay alive.
To find the confidence we've lost.