Gloria Steinem, Bio
Feminist organizer, writer and lecturer
Watching this Inauguration, I thought of Jack Kennedy, the first President I could imagine talking to - though I never did - the first who might read the same books, even laugh at the same jokes. He stood in the cold, insisting on not wearing a coat as he took the oath of office. He seemed to be class levels above us, the distant master of an enviable world.
After he was assassinated, I remember a friend on the White House staff saying, “Now what do I do with the subscription to the village voice?” It was the killing of the future, and Nixon and Reagan would take us back to the past.
Even when Kennedy was still alive and I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial listening to Martin Luther King Jr. speak - after a peaceful March on Washington that we had all been warned away from because it was sure to be violent - he was addressing outsiders, looking toward the time when they would be invited in.
The big question of that day was whether President Kennedy would override his political advisors, and come stand beside King in front of the crowd. Whether or not Kennedy said a word, it would have been a signal that the insiders were listening. But he never came.
Today was the first Inauguration in my lifetime without that feeling of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led. Even the media seemed as likely to remark on the spirit and enthusiasm of the crowd as they were to report on the principals.
Despite Obama's brilliance, he didn't try to outshine the crowd. His speech called on everyone, asked for their help, appealed to their best selves. By the end of his Inaugural address, Bush and the seated figures from the last administration seemed isolated and very old-fashioned; like a vanishing breed who still believed in power from the top-down, and had been outdated by the truth that, as Obama often says, lasting change comes from the bottom-up.
I looked at the two little girls who would sleep inside The White House for the first time. Seeing their shining faces, I couldn't help thinking about the enslaved workers who built much of that structure; the West African men born of enslaved women who somehow raised them while being forced to work themselves.
Perhaps there is some way that the molecules of the distant past can combine with the present and bridge the distance. After all, we can still see stars shine from billions of years ago.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with