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“A Salute to Hillary Clinton in NYC: Eyewitness Report

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Photo: Lady Boomer NYC

Thursday, January 15, 2009 was an unusual day. Early that morning, my blog boss (unpaid, of course), the venerable and wily Riverdaughter, was calling. She had an emergency and asked if I wanted her ticket to that evening’s New York City campaign debt benefit, “Thank You, Hillary! A Salute to Hillary Clinton,” with Bill Clinton and Jon Bon Jovi. I jumped at the chance.

It was a special time for Hillary. She had just delivered her hallmark clear, knowledgeable opening remarks and Q&A testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, January 13, 2009. They gave her their vote of confidence for Secretary of State on the following day. She would be giving her farewell speech to the Senate this very morning, and the full Senate was expected to confirm her on Wednesday, January 21, 2009, the day after the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. It was to be the last political appearance of Senator Clinton prior to her assuming her position on the worldwide stage.

It was also a miraculous day. A day where the perfect confluence came together to combine an extremely experienced airline pilot, who also happened to be a master glider pilot; was able to have the presence of mind to take control from his co-pilot; at 4,000 feet do a hard bank of the US Airways Airbus to line up correctly on the Hudson River, over which the plane just happened to be flying; miss the George Washington Bridge by a mere 900 feet, with Manhattan on one side, Jersey City on the other; radio the tower; and alert the passengers and crew to brace for a hard landing. That day 155 people successfully made it out on the wings, and were rescued within one minute by a coordinated, concerted effort of the New York Waterway ferry company, New York Police and Fire Rescue, and The Red Cross. They had about 5-8 minutes in the 36 degree water before hypothermia could set in. The entire city was jubilant, because following the tragedy of 9/11, this was a story of life, living, and everything gone right.

That chilly evening, arriving at The Town Hall, it was great to run into several PUMAs that I knew from DC, Denver, and Ricki Lieberman’s campaign events. I prepared my camera.

Salute to Hillary Clinton in NYC, 1/15/09 — Lady Boomer NYC

Governor David Paterson, who was introduced by NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, described Senator Clinton as “dynamic and outspoken.” He said,

Whether it’s housing, education, programs for the poor, the unemployed, the environment, homeland security, or agriculture reform, Hillary Clinton is in the center of everything for New York.

He honored her for her eight years of steadfast discipline and honesty, for being a finalist in her party’s nomination, adding, (striking a bittersweet PUMA tooth),

And one day, we will elect a woman President. I hope that Hillary Clinton will be around to be thanked as the person who made it responsible for them to be President.

Paterson recalled the US Airways perfect ditch landing on the Hudson that afternoon, and expressed how grateful he and all New Yorkers are to the pilot and crew. He explained that Hillary and Chuck Schumer were unable to fly in as a result, and were on their way from Washington, D.C. via train. He concluded by saying,

This is a unique event in that today Hillary Clinton was cleared in committee to be Secretary of State. She is a woman with a worldwide record, and she will now be performing on the worldwide stage. Barack Obama got the best and brightest of New York.

They screened the uplifting “One woman’s journey” video, some shots of which are included in my slideshow.

I didn’t walk in a fan of Jon Bon Jovi one way or the other, but I left one. He did a beautifully executed, unplugged-style electric acoustic set with three other musicians. Actually, I was so entranced that it didn’t occur to me until the last song to record it on my digital camera. So I got “Here Comes the Sun. He also sang a slow burn version of “Livin’ On A Prayer,” a rousing “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?,” The Beatles’ “Help!,” and a soulful version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” (Yes, it’s about “change,” and I’m sure he’ll be doing at the inauguration celebration. Whatevah. ) The videos don’t exactly do the music justice, but close enough for rock ‘n roll.

Jon Bon Jovi: “Here Comes The Sun” — Video: Lady Boomer NYC

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Jon Bon Jovi: A Change Is Gonna Come — Video: JCorso728

After his set, Jon said some words of introduction in praise of Bill Clinton, who had just returned that day from a trip to Africa for the Clinton Foundation to be at Hillary’s event. He expressed that all of his philanthropic acts came from the leadership of the Clinton / Gore Administration, and that the affordable housing issues he works with are all from Bill Clinton’s lead and inspiration.

Bon Jovi Introduces Pres. Clinton — Video: JCorso728

President Clinton took the stage and said that he’s been in a lot of campaigns, and BTW had been used to running for Governor every two years. But, praising Hillary, he declared,

I have never supported a finer candidate than the one I supported this year.

He thanked the Senators who voted for her nomination to Secretary of State, and who also spoke for her in the Senate chamber on the occasion of her farewell speech.

Sen. Chuck Schumer thanked Hillary as his Senate partner, praised her for her dedication and thoroughness, and complimented her: “as good she looks up close, she looks that much better in person.”

And she really did. Hillary was positively glowing that night as she walked on stage.

Sen. Clinton praised Chuck and said that she was proud to have represented the people of New York along with him, and that being a Senator of New York is the best, because she gets to represent the people of New York! She expressed how glad she was that the plane landed safely in the Hudson. My outgoing Senator characterized the upcoming weekend as exciting, where:

People from around the country and the world will come and watch. It’s an opportunity to start anew. It will give me great pleasure to represent my country as Secretary of State. I hope everyone will recognize how hard the times are. I ask for everyone’s patience, because it took us eight years to get into this.

Contrary to reports that we’re moving, I’m so happy that I’ll get to live in New York with Bill and Chelsea. After all, where else in the world would 10 people in the space of 30 seconds give me their opinion?

Praising the audience, her supporters, for being so gracious in helping her pay down her debt:

We’re here together! It’s so great to see people I’ve worked with and played with. On this night, my last political event, I’m looking forward to being a New Yorker and representing Lady Liberty in the world. So when I’m in the city walking down the street, come up and tell me what to do. I know I can count on you.

Hillary looked ebullient. On Saturday, January 17, 2009, she was to receive the King Center’s “Salute to Greatness” Award in Atlanta.

It was a wonderful, heart-warming evening. For me, it was one of those events that was all that, and more.

Send Hillary a Note of Congratulations for her confirmation as Secretary of State!

[cross-posted from Lady Boomer NYC]

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Barack Obama; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the rest of us

[A slightly different version of this post appears at Heidi Li’s Potpourri.]

I was asked today if I did not think I should be happy about President-elect Obama’s election because he will be our first black president. My questioner was somebody who clearly is happy about President-elect Obama’s presidency for precisely this reason. According to him Martin Luther King, Jr. would be similarly pleased. Furthermore, according to my questioner, it is insulting to Dr. King’s memory that I regard Dr. King as a teacher in my own quest to resist peer pressure, mobocracy, and authoritarianism in my own small, nascent efforts to seriously fight for the full civic and social standing of women in America and elsewhere.

In my conversation, I explained that I am extremely happy for those people of color, particularly black Americans, who feel more fully validated as Americans by living in a country led by a black person. (This post – just like the conversation – does not present an occasion to debate who counts as black or a person of color; such distinctions were out of order in the conversation.  They would have been insulting to my questioner, who is black and would rightly point out that in most of this country most people have no problem saying who counts as such, despite the complex ways that individuals come to be seen as black or brown or white or whatever. I mean that: please do not use this post as an occasion to debate what it means to be black.) I then explained that beyond this very great happiness, the color of Mr. Obama’s skin has nothing to do with whether the prospect of his presidency pleases me or dismays me.  That was all that time permitted in this brief interlude of discussion during the day. But I have thought further on the matter.

With regard to Martin Luther King, Jr. I would not presume to surmise how he would have reacted to Mr. Obama. Dr. King was sometimes critical of other black leaders and nothing in his writings suggests that all black people are superior to all white people. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a type of equality, a society in which the color of one’s skin was neither cause for shame or pride and where people, including his own children, were judged by the content of their character. As Dr. King so famously noted this dream is an American dream, not a black dream or a white dream.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

To the extent that  Barack Obama’s election represents the realization of  Dr. King’s dream, his election is an awesome, mighty event.

Yet Dr. King was, as we all are, a person of his time. So in this speech, given in 1963, he does not single out women as  group separate from men who need to be included in the new age of equality that he envisioned. He refers over and over to men, not to people, but that again was the language of his time. Confusing language, but the language of the time. King knew of hatred between black men and white men, between Jews and Gentiles, and between Protestants and Catholics, knew all too well how this hatred was so often used to justify inegalitarian treatment by one group toward the other. King rejected the hatred that drove such inegalitarianism.

I share with King a delight in the idea of a day when people will be judged by the content of their characters. I dream of a day that may come as more people come to realize that nobody yet has championed the cause of full civic and social standing for women in the face of hatred against them,  a day when people are judged by the content of the their character rather than the kind of genitalia they possess.

In 2008, I saw a man stand idly by en route to his winning the White House while his supporters called women who ran against him or on a ticket against him, “ho” and “c*nt”. He stood idly by while members of the press intimated that the adult daughter of one his opponents was prostituting herself by campaigning for her mother. That he stood by so idly had nothing to with the color of his skin. Plenty of white men in positions of political power or prestige also stood idly by while this went on. Some women of all colors stood idly by as well.

I have gone on to see the man who won the White House include in his inauguration another man, one who preaches hatred of gay people, the doctrine of wifely submission, and the comparison of the exercise of a woman’s Constitutional right to an abortion to an act of Nazism. I have seen him refuse to disassociate himself from a speechwriter who, however stupidly, evidently had a great time pretending to cop a feel of the future Secretary of State – something he would not have done, I suspect, were she a man whose cardboard cutout just happened to be at the party he was attending.  Both the preacher and the speechwriter are men, white men, so skin color does not come into the hatred  and disrespect of women indicated by either man’s words or gestures.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was, as we all are, a person of his time. So I do not presume to know what he would make of a man who stood idly by while women who ran against him or his ticket were exposed to hate speech; or what he would make of the inclusion of a woman-bashing preacher in a Presidential inauguration; or the retention of a sophomorically sexist speechwriter on a President’s staff. But I find nothing in King’s life or writing that suggests I as a woman am in any way disrespecting him when I take him as a model of a person who staunchly refused to accept arbitrary inegalitarianism and saw it as an obstacle to liberty, particularly liberty as understood in the American tradition.  So far, I have not seen from Barack Obama a commitment to the elimination of the arbitrary inegalitarianism in the way men and women, boys and girls, are treated in America or indeed the world today. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. Barack Obama has not made the cornerstone of his life or his political career the elimination of arbitrary inegalitarianism of the sort that makes the legitimate pursuit of liberty impossible. So Barack Obama does not provide me with a model for how to fight the fights I think need fighting: the overcoming of hatred of women, the effort to have people see women as people deserving of their full and rightful place in American society and around the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. does.