WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The little girl sat on her father’s shoulders during most of the inauguration. Though she is probably no more than 5 years old, her knowledge of the players in United States political system was better than most American citizens.
When Bill Clinton came out on stage she asked “Who is that?” because she can’t see well. Her dad said, “Former President Bill Clinton -- Hillary’s husband.” The phrase “Hillary’s husband” really got her attention. What 5 year old girl at the inauguration of Barack Obama with her mom, dad, and younger sister would not see Hillary as a role model?
“Oh yeah, Hillary,” the little girl said. “She gets to visit all the countries.”
“Yes,” said her father. “She is the Secretary of State.”
“So her husband was the President before Obama?” the girl asked.
“Yes, awhile before” her father answered with the patience of a man who answers a million questions like this every day before breakfast.
“Papa, when are Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan going to get here?” the little girl asked. This got a huge laugh from all of us standing nearby.
“Oh, Mitt Romney probably won’t be here today. Paul Ryan might be up there since he is a member of Congress.”
And so it went, the girl asking questions because that is what inquisitive children do. Her mother and father patiently answered. They are raising two curious and well-informed young Democrats.
I feel certain that later in the day the girl’s Papa went home talked to her about Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. You see, those three places were mentioned over and over on CNN news as the pundits talked about Obama’s historic second inaugural speech.
Obama said: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.”
Being the first black President, inaugurated for the second time on Martin Luther King Day, Obama did not fail to honor the movement which led to this historic moment. He reminded us that equality is bigger than any one group of people; equality is for all people. Until everyone is free, no one is free.
So he tied Dr. King’s movement, to the women’s movement and the gay rights movement with this alliterative phrase: “through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” I would imagine than many of the 800,000 to 1,000,000 people on the Washington Mall who heard Obama speak on Monday (Jan. 21), have some idea of the significance of Selma in the Black Civil Rights movement.
Perhaps even that smart little girl sitting on her Papa’s shoulders knew that there were several attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. These marches brought national and international attention to the Civil Rights movement and eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
I am quite certain that the first place on the list, Seneca Falls, was the least known of the three references.
Being a feminist myself, I knew this one. The Seneca Falls Convention occurred on July 19-20, 1848.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and about 300 people, mostly women met and passed resolutions, including one calling for the right of women to vote. The women’s suffrage movement was born in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
The last place on the list, Stonewall, is one that some people in the crowd were thrilled to hear President Obama make, but the reference was lost on many others.
Just four years after Selma, Ala., in New York City we had Stonewall.
At a gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn, police staged a raid on June 28, 1969. This was not the first time the police had raided one of the only places gay men gathered in a NYC city, but on this night the gay men fought back. They were tired of being arrested for loitering or for breaking laws targeting them for being gay.
This set off five consecutive nights of rioting and gave rise to gay activism and the first Gay Pride marches in New York City in 1970. Stonewall is a part of American History that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons know well, but, until Monday, no president had ever linked gay civil rights with other civil rights movements.
During the Inauguration, my friends and I agreed that listening to the dad answer the questions of the little girl was one of the highlights of our day. You see, these parents, like us, are teaching their children that we move forward together. That is what our President said: "We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together."
So they will teach their children that working for the fairness of women voting alongside of men, and black people alongside of white, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons having all the same legal protections as straight people are all part of what it means to be a good citizen.
We are made for this moment. This week our President reminded us that even though we are in tough times as a nation, we are in this together, and a father and a daughter reminded me that our children learn what we teach them.