02-19-2017  3:27 pm      •     

A friend joked to me, prior to the inauguration, that I was on the "Obama Trail." I have traveled to Hawaii, Chicago, New York and Washington DC in the last month.   I went to college in Kansas and on Jan. 11 will depart for Indonesia on the final leg of my travels (for rest and rejuvenation).  It's a simple coincidence.  However, upon considering my travels in that light, I gained a new perspective.  In Hawaii, I observed firsthand that President Obama is indeed a product of his environment, laid back, cool and passionate.  In Chicago, my friend, a fellow Portlander, lives on the same street as the Obamas.  As we drove through their Hyde Park neighborhood, she said "Don't you just love that our President lives just a few blocks from Section 8 Housing?"  "Yes!", I replied.  This man is real! There have been, I believe, identifiable pieces of him in each of the places he is from.  Only one who has lived in such a range of locales could embody the acceptance and vision for America that President Obama has. 
Arriving in the nation's capitol for the January 20 inauguration, like many people, I knew not what to expect.  We have all seen images of the March on Washington, The Million Man March and other momentous occasions that have taken place in our nation's capitol but it was hard to know for certain what we were in for with the cold temperatures and record -sized crowd.  Also like many, it had been a long time since I had pledged allegiance to the flag or sung any patriotic song with a sense of pride or ownership.  I am so grateful that I have been changed!
I headed to the inauguration with my mother, Joy Ruplinger, who is White and lives in Portland.  I, like our President, share the complex yet simple existence of a being a "black on" bi-racial person.  I was excited to be attending with my mother, but also wanted to be "with my people."  I am comfortable in my bi-racial skin, but also possess what I consider a healthy awareness of race.  I wondered if being there with her would make for a different experience than being in the company of my peers, many of whom were attending as well.  This wonder was less about the age gap and more about finding my place in this crowd.
What I was pleasantly surprised to find is that the inauguration was the one of the few times in my life that I felt race simply did not matter. It's not that race doesn't matter, it does, we still have a long way to go to heal and transform race relations, but as we walked the national mall the eve before the big event, and the morning of, I was moved by the spirit of oneness, the fact that though our personal identities may have played a role in why we came, more accurately, we were there to celebrate and embrace hope, change and one another. As the millions of us gathered and took in the ceremony and President Obama's words, all I felt was connected to everyone and everything in my midst.  The crowd and the temperature were mere afterthoughts in contrast to the sense of relief and joy that we Americans were for a change, a beacon of light, an example of the best of what this country has to offer.
There was a sticky nametag being passed out that said something to the effect of "one conversation can change everything."  To me, it captured the essence of the event.  I have never had so many genuine conversations with so many strangers from all walks of life.  As much as I, like most, would like to believe I am free of biases, I am not, and this experience reminded me of that.  I found myself moved and surprised one time after another as I chatted with people about why they came, where they came from, and who they were with.  I met single moms with a brood of kids, wealthy entertainers, elderly people of many races, and saw countless cowboys.  A friend of mine later recounted that he stood in the crowd next to a person with a "Rednecks For Obama" sign.  WE were ALL there!
Adding to the colorful crowd representative of an ever growing and changing United States of America, was an overwhelming sense of goodwill.   It is a well-known fact that there were no arrests made in Washington DC on that day, a city with a crime-ridden reputation.  One had to be there to understand how that could have happened.  President Obama, his family and this movement for change have, I believe, inspired people toward goodwill.  I shared a cab with a stranger who refused to let me pay for my part.  When an elderly or wheelchair-bound person was present, the crowds parted.  When stuck in a mass of people, there was patience and respect.  I wish I could find a more eloquent way to express what still moves me to tears when I think about this historic occasion, but the best I can come up with is the word, responsibility.
President Obama has asked us to all be a part of change.  After chatting with an Afghani cab driver the morning of the inauguration, who was so proud, witnessing my mother's unfettered joy and being on the receiving end of much hospitality and goodwill, all I can come up with is that I, we all, have a responsibility to transfer the spirit of that day into our daily lives and communities.  This can be done through service or activism, but sometimes in the muck and mire of the day, those endeavors can seem daunting.  The single thing I saw most while in Washington is how easy and meaningful it is to share a smile.  It speaks every language and can open even the most sealed of doors. If I've done nothing else each day since I returned, I have done that.  I continue to be moved by how disarming and engaging it is each time I do it and despite the economic and social challenges that we face as a nation and as individuals, we really do have much to smile about.  Any person who attendance the inauguration can affirm this fact.  We acted for change, and this time it worked!  The possibilities are endless….
Rosanna White is a 32-year-old Portland native who teaches English at an alternative high school in Los Angeles.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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