“All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance”
If only it could be so simple again. If only people could set aside all of their agendas and just give it a chance. What is it you ask? Why peace of course, peace and maybe just a little more: equality possibly?
Equalityin the workplace, equality in the tax rolls, the right to own a home without paying exorbitant interest rates, the right to go to college using a GI Bill, or a student loan, the ability to retire comfortably without having to worry about half of your retirement funds disappearing because of fiscal mismanagement by unknown suits on Wall Street, access to good health care without worrying about how you will pay for it. All of these rights just because you are an American, no matter where you live, or how much you make, or what you last name is, or who your parents are. It could be that simple. If only . . .
If only the color of a man’s skin really and truly did not matter any more in social or political settings.. If only all that mattered were his ideas and his plans for making this nation better for all Americans. If only he could be judged solely for his intelligence, his political savvy, his keen insights. Over 50 percent of Americans said in November that the color of his skin did not matter. Perhaps it is finally true.
If only there were the possibility that those who are already decrying actions before the act itself has the chance to be accomplished, would pause long enough to see if it works. Just tarry a moment to discern if the covenant that this man has made with the nation might have a chance of coming to fruition if given enough support.
If only so many things had not gone wrong once upon a time. If only we had not lost our most preeminent visionaries half a century ago: First, the man who brazenly declared that we “ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” And people walked away ready to volunteer, ready to commit to their country. And then a few years later, another man, bolstered by the younger man, declared that he “had a dream,” and countless people followed him to Washington, D.C.
If only he had had the chance to see his dreams through. And then one more man, a younger brother, tried to pick up the torch and carry it for both men, but he, too was shot down. If only . . .
And now, fifty years later, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace sign, we also celebrate the dream, and we laud the speeches, and a man of color stands before us and pledges to reflect on their dreams, to remember the dreams of his grandparents, his father. And he pledges to contemplate the generations to come, considering his own young daughters, and it is because of them that we know that it is not a matter of if only, but a matter of when.
So this time, when we sing “give peace a chance,” perhaps more people will hearken, more people will acknowledge, more people will heed the call, and maybe this time, perhaps peace will actually have the chance it needs.
Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
by Elizabeth Alexander
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.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul,
Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be
published on February 6, 2009.
PEACE—Fifty years ago the Peace symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom, a British designer and artist.
There will be more later. Peace.