Inauguration 2001: A Citizens' Oath of Office
Inauguration Day 2001, standing on the steps of the State Capitol just a
few blocks from the governor's mansion that George W. Bush recently had
vacated, about 1,000 Austin residents raised their hands as I administered
a Citizens' Oath of Office:
do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen of
the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, resist
corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist the roll-back of
civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms."
inauguration in Washington earlier that day made it clear to all of us
that whatever radical and progressive political organizing we had done
during the eight noxious years of the "New Democrat"
administration of Clinton must be intensified during the toxic four years
to come under a Bush administration.
possibilities for that organizing were plainly visible from looking at the
range of people in the spirited, noisy and passionate crowd -- from
Democrats to the Radical Anarchist Marching Band. On the platform,
representatives of the NAACP and Green Party, the American Civil Liberties
Union and University of Texas Radical Action Network, the National
Organization for Women and International Socialist Organization, all spoke
to a common theme: the need to build a popular movement to challenge power
and keep alive radical and progressive politics.
many in the crowd voted for Al Gore, there was a consensus that a
Democratic Party which has moved so clearly and consistently to the right
-- embracing reactionary domestic policies, such as Clinton's so-called
welfare "reform" law, and pursuing brutal and inhumane foreign
policy, such as the ongoing bombing/sanctions policy toward Iraq -- is not
going to be at the forefront of a progressive movement.
Austin we chanted, "He's not my president." But I also said that if
Gore had been elected, for me the chant would have been the same. The
politicians of both major parties who have surrendered the promise of real
democracy to corporate interests will never be leaders of the people.
Bush is not our president, and Gore wouldn't have been either, the
question is clear: Who can be our leader?
that moment, I asked the people in the crowd to turn to the person next to
them, then turn to the other side, and then to look at themselves. If our
movements are to be truly popular movements, leadership will come from us.
It will be diffuse. We will all, at some point and in some fashion, have
to step forward to claim both the right and the obligation to lead.
movements don't search for leaders, they produce leaders. Such movements
-- to abolish slavery, win labor organizing rights, end wars -- have won
real gains for human freedom and justice, not because of leaders but
because of the moral vision and courage of all the people who did not turn
away from the struggle.
last phrase of the citizens' oath we took in Austin echoes the "Call to
Resist Illegitimate Authority" issued in 1967 by Americans struggling
to end their government's barbaric attack on the people of Vietnam. Those
were grim times, certainly no less scary and threatening than the
situation we face today. But people struggled, fought, resisted -- against
the grain and against the odds.
powerful have added new weapons to their arsenals -- structural adjustment
programs and World Trade Organization rules whose effects are as lethal as
a B-52 bombing run. Just as their strategies for domination and control
have "matured," so have our analyses and strategies for fighting back.
the essence of the struggle is unchanged, and our pledge should conclude
with the same words as the 1967 pledge: "Now is the time to resist."
Robert Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.