Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Barack Obama's Cabinet & Odetta's Legacy

Barack Obama is President-Elect of the United States of America.

I don't know about you, but I was so excited I threw a digital "Barack Obama Block Party". Yes, I did. Check out the new podcast and let me know what you think.

A nation has leapt a hurdle - reaching a new plateau in our history. Young people, baby-boomers of all stripes, people of color, and various communities came together in an unprecedented way to ensure his election.

His movement became their movement; his moment was theirs as well.

Since then, the nation's been in a kind of surreal limbo. It's something like a sweet and bitter gumbo - folks high on the hope of America's historical moment while grappling with financial strife the likes of which most living Americans have never seen.

So, "Yes We Did".

But yes, "We Need To". And quickly. President-elect Obama's going to have to Shake It Fast.

We're nearing the one month mark of Barack-Obama's election and transition process, and during that time, we've watched America's next President move at a breakneck pace to build a cabinet set to hit the ground running on January 20.

Supporters and cynics alike are watching Obama very closely, especially as his cabinet takes shape. Thus far, this is perhaps one of the most highly qualified, well educated collection of folks assembled for the President's close council. Too, I don't think I've ever seen so many former haters sign up for posts so quickly. The appointment of former rivals Senator Clinton to the role of Secretary of State and that of Bill Richardson in the Commerce Department post suggests a great deal of confidence on Obama's part.

Or, it tells us more about the world of politics than we'd really like to know.

But I'd really be impressed if the President-elect brought Dennis Kucinich into the fold. That would be CHANGE I could pull a popcorn bucket up to - just to watch.

It should be said that after the latest in a swift round of Chicago Hilton press conferences, a number of folk have already expressed concern about the some of the Obama's selections. Is change truly at hand? Is the President-elect throwing bones at various groups, such as Latinos, with certain selections? Further, has our soon-to-be President shown the commitment to diversity the nation has come to expect - especially given the high level of ethnic (if not political) diversity prevalent in the G.W. Bush administration (which remains the oddest twist of irony)?

Sure, it may have been heartening for some to hear Bill Richardson address Latino voters and supporters in Spanish during his brief address today. But at this point, most of the answers about the true face of the President-elect's cabinet and staff won't truly be answered until we see his entire lineup.

And if some in the country are nursing concerns about the Obama's early moves - we ought to remember that it's the job of the people to keep an elected official honest, accountable, and worthy of our trust and tax dollars.

Now, as always, we've got to remember our voices, even if they register dissent.

The life of folk songstress Odetta, who died Tuesday at the age of 77, ought to teach us that. Odetta's song's of victim over oppression, her renditions of black southern prison and work songs, and her rich ballads - all seemed to resonate with the theme of freedom.

Odetta, born in Alabama and raised in California, brought the "Freedom Trilogy" - with voice and guitar - to the March on Washington, D.C. in August, 1963. Odetta's voice was to be featured at another historical Washington moment: the inauguration of President-elect Obama set for January 20, 2009.

We'll miss her on that day.

But the sacrifices she made as an cultural historian, folk singer, and activist reminds us that no matter the circumstances, we must always remember where we came from, make our voices heard, and continue the fight for justice.

In this pivotal historical moment, as we say farewell to Odetta and prepare to welcome our newest president, there are perhaps no more important lessons than these.


Visit The New York Times for an article and short documentary on Odetta.

Top right photo credit- Charles Dharapak, Associated Press


Odetta Sings "Water Boy"

Odetta Sings "God's Gonna Cut You Down"

Odetta at the Newport Festival

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