(Photos taken on January 13, 2018, before the inauguration of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, State Capitol, Richmond, VA)
This past week in Virginia brought not one, but two, parades on the streets of Lexington. The first, on Saturday, was sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The second, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, was sponsored by the Community Anti-Racism Effort (CARE). My family and I eschewed the first parade in favor of going to Richmond to see the inauguration of Ralph Northam, and we joyfully marched, sang, and quoted Martin Luther King in the CARE parade, alongside over 700 friends and neighbors. In this blog post, I offer a few observations about the inauguration in Richmond.
Twenty years ago, I would never have gone to an inauguration unless I had been invited to the inaugural ball as well, which I wouldn’t have been. The antics of my more youthful days kept me away from gown-worthy, gala-sparkled, gorgeous-people events, where most people don’t match high-top Chucks with their most comfortable dress and most women don’t drink beer out of the bottle. Let’s just say I’ve grown up a bit over these decades, but that my sartorial and libation styles have not evolved much at all.
My husband, our son, and I loaded our tired selves into a car late last Friday evening to drive two hours and some change on a soggy road to Richmond in order to join a good friend for dinner and get to the inauguration grandstand on Capitol Square by the designated time on Saturday. Our thirteen-year-old daughter made the wise young adolescent choice to have a sleepover with friends instead of hearing “boring political speeches” in Richmond. Our seventeen-year-old son reads a lot of books, follows national and international politics, and digs Model United Nations, so he was definitely in from the start. His knowledge and youthful spirit gave my husband and me much-needed energy for the road trip. In fact, we surprised ourselves in our commitment to see the inauguration of Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax, and Mark Herring. Virginia’s newly elected triumvirate works close enough to the nation’s capital to make me believe that they can counteract a tiny portion of the evil taking place in Washington, D.C.
Saturday morning was drier than Friday evening, but the temperatures had dropped by about 35 degrees. The inauguration tickets encouraged us to get to the grandstand by 9:30. Nevertheless, we lingered over coffee and one of the best breakfasts we have ever had and then hauled chilly ass down Grace Street to get to Capitol Square by about 10:45. Streets were cleared, and security was tight. We stopped at the entrance to hear, and then chant along with, a group of people wearing fluorescent orange caps and insisting on a clean Dream Act. We ran into a few people from the western side of the state, chatted, and then decided to hit the port-a-potties before the ceremony began. The port-a-potties were in garden next to Capitol Square. Our path to the port-a-johns brought us by The Virginia Women’s Monument (see photograph below), which honors the contributions of all Virginia Women. This reminds me a bit of my poem titled “West Virginia Bridges,” which laments the lack of named women—real live women who accomplished namable things—in the 116 named bridges across the state. Here are the last two stanzas from that poem:
There is one bridge dedicated to Nurse Veterans.
No specific names because West Virginia has no particular women.
West Virginia needs one hundred and fifteen bridges for men.
Steel stringer and pre-cast concrete bridges
require manly names, like Robert and Don
and Stonewall. No Robertas or Donnas allowed.
When I saw the monument with my husband and son, I stated indelicately that Monument Avenue in Richmond has a statue for every man who ever crapped on a battlefield, but here we have the Virginia Women’s Monument, designed to honor a nameless collective of 400 years of women for their nameless feats. You would have to work pretty hard to get more token than this.
But I digress. That’s what happens when you leave an event to go to the bathroom!
The inaugural ceremonies themselves had me paying sharp attention. I was fascinated by it all. Seeing judges, lawmakers, and staff muckety-mucks behind the podium, observing the fabulous array of hats and tuxes and corsages, watching former governors greet friends and colleagues, hearing political conversations on our less-important side—all of it was fascinating and somehow finely distilled in the cold January air. At one point, impossibly marshmallowed giant snowflakes fell to make the scene stand out even more. People in our area of the stands were welcoming, chatty, funny.
If you can see the photo above well enough, you’ll see the listing of speakers and performers at the inauguration. These included a volunteer choir from Richmond with a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” and another singer piercing the cold with his interpretation of “Star Spangled Banner.” The program demonstrates an effort to include people of all races, religions, and creeds. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center Boys and Girls Scouts recited the pledge of allegiance, two Baptist churches were represented, and a rabbi from a Richmond temple gave the benediction. Representatives of Virginia’s Indian tribes blessed the ground. As I think was the purpose, the inauguration organizers communicated an overarching message of inclusion and celebration. I was surprised, though, not to hear any women’s voices in the core program. (There were two women singing as people streamed out of the stands in the time between the formal ceremonies and the parade, but that was it.) If you read the Gender Shrapnel Blog regularly, you know I notice these things, but how can you not? 51% of Virginians are women, but 0% of the speakers were. The judges who swore in Northam, Fairfax, and Herring were also all men. How are we not noticing these gender-deaf moves? (*See this September, 2017, post on this issue.)
Of the three officials who took the oath of office last Saturday, only one gave an inaugural address. That, of course, was Ralph Northam. He stuck mostly to what he knows best—healthcare, and I very much like what he had to say on that count. He mostly ignored what he does least, which is care for the environment. In one part of Northam’s speech, shaped around the campaign slogan “The Way Ahead” and concomitant metaphors about paths and compasses, the new governor told a story about a medical diagnosis he had given and how he learned years later that he could have delivered the news in a far more effective way. I was struck by this simple story and heartened by hearing an elected official admit to committing a mistake and learning from it. Then I wondered how low I’ve learned to set the bar, through a year of Trump and the trumpholes, when I consider this common act of learning from a mistake a heroic feat. In any case, Northam’s inauguration speech was better than I was prepared for and slightly less gender-deaf than the rest of the inaugural ceremonies.
See you next week!
(The Virginia Women’s Monument, Richmond, VA / Photo taken January 13, 2018)