Speaking in his inaugural address as 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama declared today that “the world has changed and we must change with it”.
“We are gathered because we have chosen hope over fear,” he said. The beginning of his speech was conducted to a chorus of cheers, as the millions gathered in Washington DC repeatedly chanted his name.
Moments earlier, Obama was sworn in as the country’s first African-American leader in a ceremony in Washington DC watched by millions around the world.
While his address echoed many of the popular themes of American patriotism and history, stating baldly that those who perpetuate fear and terror would be defeated, he also warned Americans that “greatness is not given, but earned”.
Invoking a morally driven vision of cooperation and responsibility, nationally and globally, he went on to say, “our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it permit us to do as we please.”
The address included a deliberate token of embrace to non-believers as well as to different religious communities. It also featured the expected reference to the search for a new relationship with the Muslim world.
In a relatively short speech, Obama struck what commentators are referring to as a “down to business tone”, setting his remarks in the context of a variety of world crises and the courage of America’s ancestors.
He made no direct reference to Martin Luther King, and some of his supporters may have noted the absence of the kind of strong social justice rhetoric which appeals to them but causes suspicion among what remains a conservative majority. Instead, Obama went for the bi-partisan middle ground and the common good.
Nevertheless, the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for his observation that only 60 years ago his father would not have been served in a restaurant – a reference to the segregation, discrimination and racism which earlier generations of civil rights activists fought, and which in many respects still haunts the USA – especially in its urban ghettos.
There were also coded references in the speech to re-engaging with science, restoring human rights and the rule of law - the word 'torture' was not used, but definitely implied. There were nine instances where Obama indicated a change of direction from the predecessor administration.
The Rev Joseph Lowery, one of the founding fathers of that movement, followed the inaugural address with a ringing endorsement of Obama, evoking biblical calls to equality and direct references to racial equality and participation.
In a message to the new president, African American womanist writer and poet Maya Angelou declared: “When I see the cabinet President-elect Obama has chosen, I realise he's very serious. He really means to bring together a team who will match the mountain of work - we have men and women in that cabinet who match the mountains.
She added: “In a climate where all men and women are known to be equals, ‘yes I can’ speaks for the brahmin in Boston and the theologian in Nashville, Tennessee. It speaks for the rabbi at the hall of tolerance in Los Angeles and it speaks for the imam in the largest mosque in the United States. It speaks for us all.”