Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Frances and Bill Beard with their daughter Patrique at an Obama Rally in Ohio
President Obama greets Jamaican American Michael McPherson, Chief Financial Officer of the NEA, at a National Convention of the organisation.
Patrique (right) and her Dad Bill Beard with cousin Anica Allen at the Inauguration.
Column in the Jamaica Observer | Monday, January 26, 2009
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
I vicariously experienced the past six amazing months in the US presidential elections and inauguration through Frances and Bill Beard, my sister and her husband. Frances relocated to Ohio for three months to work relentlessly with her colleagues in the NEA (National Education Association - membership 3.2 million); their primary mission was to elect a pro-public education president and like-minded members of Congress. Ohio was considered a "Red" (Republican) state and it took millions of mailings, endlessly buzzing phone banks, and masterful logistics to organise more than 150,000 NEA members in that state to win it for Barack Obama.
A senior executive of the NEA Ohio affiliate commented, "We shared (our message) with whoever would look at it. in direct mail. in a special booklet, in email, in the magazine, on the web and at face-to-face meetings - the layered communications approach."
Messages were tested and volunteers knocked on millions of doors, motivated by the steady, calm, brilliant campaigning of a US politician, the likes of whom had never been seen before. My intrepid sister, who is an organisational development consultant for the NEA was able to reserve platform appearances for colleagues at a major rally. "Frances Beard. showed us a whole new side of her capability - who knew she could run presidential campaign appearances," joked her associate.
When Ohio and 28 other states came in for Obama and the world raised a cheer for kudos-hungry America, everyone knew that this would be an inauguration like no other.
And so, for their work, the NEA folks earned precious tickets for the inauguration ceremony of Barack Obama, the man who commandeered the most dynamic campaign-turned-transition team in the history of the USA.
Bill Beard who is a communications project manager, and their daughter Patrique (a cold prevented Frances from attending) became a part of what he described as "an unending sea of people" on the Mall facing the Capitol. They met the subway at 6.30 am, arriving at Union Station at 7 am. The four blocks to the Mall were "thick with people", said Bill.
A parked bus kept the crowd stuck for over an hour on one street. Suddenly, Bill heard people behind him chanting "Keep hope alive!" Bill was puzzled since that was really not Obama's but Jesse Jackson's slogan. He said that as he thought of the man, there appeared Jesse in his fedora, walking with the crowd. Minutes after, whom did he see but Al Sharpton. It seems that these two seasoned activists had decided to get the authentic experience of the day.
As they approached their spot, the "silver" standing area, their progress slowed. "We remarked to each other that we felt like penguins," chuckled Bill, "with our arms stuck to our sides, we were packed so close." It turned out that the scanning equipment had begun to fail and the security had to resort to asking them to show their tickets while the police took a keen look. They entered the gate four hours after leaving Union Station, at 10.30 am, just in time for the start of the programme.
Over to Bill Beard as he described Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20:
"I was absolutely taken by the moment - for me it was a bookend, taking me back to that day in 1963 when relatives from all over America gathered at our house in DC, then set out with my parents to march with Martin Luther King Jr. They kept me home because they did not know if it would have been dangerous. I had seen on television marchers being beaten, attacked by dogs and knocked down by water cannons. What a far way we have come - on Tuesday I was heading to the Mall with my 13-year-old daughter, to witness the swearing-in of the first African-American president!"
"You should have seen the Mall - a wonderful spirit pervaded. People knew they were being called to a higher level of behaviour. They were helping and checking on each other, laughing, sharing stories, making each other feel comfortable. The one reason was the man, Barack Obama, who was taking the Oath of Office. They wanted him to see that they could pattern the behaviour this extraordinary leader exemplified."
"The inauguration was awesome on so many levels. There was a spiritual intensity, a connectedness that people felt in the sheer size of the gathering. It was indelibly imprinted on our hearts - this was too important for us. We could not miss it."
"I have never before in my life seen a crowd like this. I went to the Million Man March and this was so much bigger - two million! I had never seen so many people with walkers and in wheelchairs in one place. We drank in the moment.
"The chief justice's error with the oath was like a lump in everyone's throat. When Obama stopped and looked at him, I started to wonder and then I realised that he had picked up on John Roberts' error. Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully" - it just shows how astute Obama is."
Bill saw Aretha Franklin's and Joseph Lowery's participation as "a symbolic bridge from the past" and that of poet Elizabeth Alexander representing "a new post-racial approach to how things are done, a broader perspective". In Rick Warren, he saw a message from Obama that whether we agree or not with some people's position, they are entitled to their opinion. "He is not stoking fires and he supports inclusiveness."
In the close-ups of Barack and Michelle Obama at those 10 inaugural balls, we agreed that they impressed us with their lack of pretension, that they are truly a loving couple, very comfortable in their skin. Bill noted of their children Malia and Sasha, "When your children so readily embrace what you espouse, respect and decency, they are redefining what an American family is, at a time when family was becoming unravelled."
Like so many Americans, Bill feels optimistic for his country. "Obama is a man sent for this moment, just as Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt were, in their time. History will place him up there with them. This is divine order, a gift from God in so many ways. Now we should be working even harder to support him, and keep praying for him and his family."