I feel pretty lucky to have gotten to see Obama’s inauguration in Jakarta, a city which has strong feelings for this man who was once a schoolkid in Menteng. I think it allowed me to look at the event in a different light.
I managed to slip out of work for a bit to see the big moment on huge screens at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. The atmosphere was pretty special. You could feel the optimism and
excitement, and the crowd was a mix of Indonesians and expats from all
around the place.
For the past eight years, so since I was 15, America has had a leader who made so many decisions that repulsed me. My own country, Australia, had a leader that made so many stupid decisions to follow in the mistakes of America (as well as so many stupid decisions of his own). I felt resentful. There seemed to be a complete lack of respect for humanity both in Australian politics and world politics. And as a young person, so angered by the injustice of it all, it was so frustrating and stifling and seemingly impossible to change.
At university, we took to the streets to protest American hegemony. We ranted in tutorials about American hegemony. We casually slipped the phrase into conversations just to make us sound smart. I had screaming fights with my parents as a teenager about Iraq. My mother initially supported the move by America to remove Hussein. She no longer does.
When change arrived in Australia at the end of 2007, and we no longer had a Prime Minister who would blindly follow Bush into wars, it was a relief. But Rudd is no revolutionary, he’s cautious and conservative and an academic, a difference from the brash larrikins from the left who have led Australia in the past.
But he was a change that the majority could digest and accept. He started setting about righting some of Howard’s wrongs that had been so petty, like his refusal to apologise to Indigenous Australians. In my opinion at least, he will dilligently pick away at problems introduced by Howard in a fairly boring little Kevin Rudd way for the next few years. And the proficiency of his deputy, Julia Gillard, is perhaps warming us up for a revolution at a future election where we could see a woman take the role of PM.
But Australia’s influence on world affairs is minuscule. So even though things were slowly slowly changing at home, the big issues were well out of Kevin’s jurisdiction.
But even the way Obama won his election was revolutionary. His victory punched a hole through the glass ceiling of American racism. And his inauguration speech was a shake up for Americans and the rest of the world. He isn’t preoccupied with being careful and clinging to the rhetoric of the past, he wants things fixed. And he made it clear that individuals had to play their part in the great repair job.
So even though I still cringe when I hear the phrase “God Bless America”, and I still do have the little voice in the back of my mind pouting like a child that’s been sent to their room while muttering “American hegemony”, it’s exciting.
child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead
entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows
through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our
cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility
It’s especially exciting to see recognition that being American isn’t enough of a qualification to take the lead on global issues. Leadership needs to be earned and power needs to be exercised responsibly. It’s a privilege, not a right. To me, Obama’s speech expressed an awareness of this.
The recognition of the Muslim world was greeted with particularly loud cheers in the Mariott’s ballroom. Especially this line:
their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you
on what you can build, not what you destroy.”
It was such a pertinent message in Indonesia, where extremists hijack an otherwise moderate Islamic agenda and the people here (and from my own country) have been victims of the terrorism which has resulted.
“…a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”
“…our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.”
I think all of these sentiments ring true, whether you are talking about America, Australia, Indonesia or anywhere else.
So it feels like real change has arrived at last. And it’s arrived with a strong reminder to reconsider our individual complacency.