President Barack Obama walking at dusk
President Barack Obama following a visit to the Presidential Inaugural Committee headquarters, Jan. 17, 2013.

Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOMENSENEWS)– On Friday night, the express bus from New York dropped Emily and me off directly in front of the B and B where we would stay for inauguration weekend. She was smiling from ear to ear, as was I, both of us thrilled to begin our first great adventure together.

My granddaughter is 11 and I am 66. I have come to Washington frequently to cover stories, protest, attend conferences and hold business meetings. Hardly ever just for fun. She was here once before to visit a friend. This time promises to be a blast and I hope you will follow me on Twitter today and tomorrow, as Emily and I watch the Inaugural Parade together, perhaps dance at the Inaugural Ball (tickets not yet confirmed) and greet Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader, at her reception on Tuesday.

On the schedule for Saturday was a screening at Shiloh Baptist Church of The House I Live In, a documentary about the impact of the drug war in the United States. Film star Danny Glover was a panelist for the discussion afterward and it featured a live performance by John Legend, who sang a cover of the Paul Robeson song the film is named after. The two are executive producers of the documentary.

Emily has to miss school on Tuesday, but her sixth-grade teacher said it would be OK, since she is meeting Pelosi! On the bus ride down, I tried to remember what sixth grade was like for me at St. Michael’s Elementary School in Worthington, Ohio.

That was the year the boys began hitting the girls on the playground. Danny Reaver, big and heavy for his age, was the cruelest and strongest. We sometimes complained and sometimes they got into trouble, but mainly that was the way it was.

That would never be tolerated at Emily’s middle school. She says the boys are obnoxious but they do not hit her. (One used to poke her, she says, but she ignored him and he stopped.)

Changed Times

The values, practices, customs and laws have changed so enormously since the late 1950s. At that moment, the nation was preparing to elect its first Catholic president. How proud I was that John Fitzgerald Kennedy won.

Now, I am here with Emily, born four weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, to celebrate the re-election of the nation’s first African American president, a testament to what the past five decades have accomplished. Today I worry about the dominance of Roman Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court and the church’s stances on human sexuality.

Emily said she wanted to visit the Lincoln Memorial. I mentioned maybe we could also visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial; two reminders of the horrific events and successful social movements that have shaped these past 50 years.

I hope we will also find a chance to visit the Capitol Rotunda to see the monument to three leading suffragists, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a reminder of how long and hard women had to fight for even the most basic rights.

Emily said, Oh yeah, I had heard something about that. For a moment I felt the deep sadness of elders who realize we can never fully communicate our experiences or life lessons. How could I ever explain?

Unexplainable Events

There was the assassination of JFK and the murder of his murderer, so that the nation will never truly know how it happened.

There were the murders and violence during the civil rights movement that catalyzed the end of the nation’s Jim Crow laws and customs.

There was President Lyndon Baines Johnson‘s War on Poverty, the urban riots, the anti-war movement that brought Johnson to his knees, the contemporaneous women’s movement, the passage of Title IX, the 1970s law requiring equal access to educational opportunities for girls and women, the assassination of King and then in quick order the murder of Robert Kennedy.

The election and then impeachment of Richard Millhouse Nixon.

Roe v. Wade, 40 years ago this month, legalizing abortion nationwide.

The Hyde Amendment, the following year, denying poor women and later military women access to abortion.

The rise of the far-right, keening for the power that the Southern Democrats and the Ku Klux Klan once enjoyed.

The ending of the War on Poverty when President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 welfare law.

The re-launching of the War on Poverty by Obama and Pelosi through gaining passage of the national health insurance law. And the response of the Republican Party licking its wounds from its defeats and gearing up for new battles as if it were the 1890s all over again.

Right now, though, Emily–the daughter of a Mexican man who initially was undocumented and an American daughter of a single mother–dreams of being a scientist and is encouraged by her teacher.

Title IX has changed, and will continue to change, the nation’s education of its girls and young women. Roe v. Wade remains on the books for now. The influences of racism and gender have waned considerably since 1958, though not enough. Her generation will have much work to do, because and despite all the above.

She has a chance to do it though.

And that is what we are celebrating this day and why I am taking her to the inauguration to see Barack and Michelle Obama march down Pennsylvania Avenue and later to meet Pelosi.

Rita Henley Jensen is the founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews. She is the grandmother of two boys and two girls.

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