Young Amanda Gorman delivered a magnificent speech at President Biden’s inauguration. Her poem should be made into textbook material in schools everywhere. It is in fact a brilliant snapshot of the struggles faced by democracies across the world and what it takes to overcome them.
The opening line introduces the tempo and the mood sustained throughout: “When day comes we ask ourselves where we can find light in this never-ending shade”.
These are gloomy times with news bulletins carrying heavy, alarming news. The world is living a winter of tedious, asphyxiating confinement as a rapidly mutating virus threatens our way of life.
Our economies are under immense pressure, our liberties suspended for public safety and our democracies risk have their foundations shaken. It is indeed a period of darkness for which ‘never-ending shade’ is almost a welcome euphemism.
Gorman has words of warning against complacency. “What ‘just is’ isn’t always justice”. So simple a play on words reminds us of the dangers of the “U ijja mhux xorta” mentality. Resigning ourselves to accepting things as they are because “it just is” means depriving ourselves of justice.
The Youth Poet Laureate describes the problems facing a divided nation and crucially identifies the struggle to finish what was begun many years ago at the founding of the nation.
It is a theme that even Joe Biden stressed – that of a Union ever striving to be forged with purpose. Not a Union of perfection but a Union that constantly completes itself with harmony and unity.
These are hard times in which to preach unity. Diffidence and dissidence are the codewords in a broken society and the very value that underpins a democratic commonwealth is polluted by the sowing of divisions.
“Victory won’t lighten in the blade, But in all of the bridges we have made.” Gorman sees through the division and understands that unity is the key to building a better future.
The lessons of the past are the steppingstones upon which we build our future and here Gorman comes up with such a potent statement: “For while we had our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us”.
She manages to encapsulate the essence of our current distraction. If we let our woes in the period of darkness distract us, then we will fail because we will not have learnt from the lessons of the past. Instead of obsessing about our future and resigning ourselves to the dark fate we seem to have been dealt, we need “the power to author a new chapter. To offer hope and laughter to ourselves”.
Every bit of this masterpiece is quotable, but the key lies in the middle of the speech: “But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust.”
Therein lies an awareness of the difficult moment that “the heirs of such a terrifying hour” are witnessing. The backsliding of the rule of law delays a true democracy and fetters it from its real potential.
With the knowledge of awareness comes determination: “We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation”. There lies the new mission. There lies the resolve “to leave behind the country better than the one we were left”. It is indeed the consciousness of our duty towards our children that can be the driving force in the battle for change.
Our democracies are riddled with self-doubt. The assault on the basic functioning of our democratic systems may threaten to have a debilitating effect. Nowhere was this clearer than in the US with the assault on Capitol Hill.
Such darkness is not limited to the US. Across the democratic world challenges brought or exacerbated by the COVID pandemic will require a new resolve. The words of a young American poet might in the end prove to be inspirational. Our youth should be reading them, studying them, and getting inspired by them.
“For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, If only we are brave enough to be it.”