I stayed up all night to watch Barack Obama's inauguration. Actually I meant to get up at 4.30am but ended up messing around on the computer for so long that I decided I might as well not go to bed. I was a bit fuzzy when I turned on the TV but listening to his speech changed all that.
It seems extraordinary to say it, but watching US President Barack Obama talk to America, and the world, has given me a new hope. Maybe I've been distracted by his glamour, maybe I'm deluded, but I feel the potential for a new way forward. I guess what has surprised me is not just that America, a country founded on racism and slavery, could elect an African as leader. That is something I never thought I would see in this lifetime. But on reflection it seems just as astounding that it could elect someone with humility.
I stayed up to watch because the election of the first black American president was too big a historical moment to miss. What riveted me was listening to him talk. It seemed like, in a nation that is obsessed with religion, we were finally seeing a leadership demonstrating true Christ-like values. That he acknowledged the Muslims, Hindus and atheists present just reinforced that.
What did he say? He denounced wanton violence as a tool of foreign policy. He held out his hand to the poor, pledging to work to bring justice to the world. He warned rich nations that their greed must come to an end. He spoke of hard times ahead, and the desire that America be a leader by its example rather than through the might of its armies. He spoke of the need to address climate change and economic recession.
Maybe his words will all prove hollow. Maybe America will continue to be the rapacious imperial power that we have come to know and despise. Maybe nothing will change. But if Obama is true to his words, then such humble leadership could turn the world around. Could his example persuade the rich countries to forgo greed and start to work for the common good of us all when nations meet at Copenhagen to address global warming? I pray so.