Amanda Gorman Made Silvester Beaman Sad, Joe Biden Happy, and John Lewis Dance


The saddest person on the Inaugural stage was not Mike Pence, the outgoing Vice President. Indeed, after what he had to put up with from Trump for the last month, he’s probably relieved if not outright happy. The saddest person was not Amy Klobuchar or other presidential hopefuls who came up short during the primaries, who no doubt imagined themselves as the person taking the oath of office today. The saddest person on the stage today was the Reverend Doctor Silvester Beaman of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

The happiest person on the stage was President Joe Biden, but it’s not because he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America. It’s not because the inauguration went off without more violence. It’s not because he can finally *do* things to address all the problems he and we are facing, which had to have been incredibly frustrating as the transition floundered and foundered and blundered its way to today. It’s not because he accomplished what Beau wanted him to do.

The reason Beaman was so sad and Biden was so happy is this: Biden finished before Amanda Gorman spoke and Beaman had to follow her. Honestly, I half expected Beaman to step up to the microphone, ask “Can I get an Amen?”, and then drop the folder with his prepared benediction and sit down. Don’t get me wrong: Beaman’s words were good, but he had to know that he was following something epic.

When I saw Gorman come down the Capitol steps wearing her yellow power coat, her bold hoop earrings, her bright red wrap around the powerful tight braids atop her head, I just sat back and smiled. Michelle Obama looked great in her purple, but she was a member of the audience today. Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez both made their entrances before they picked up the microphone, and were fine, but Gorman owned those steps in a way that no on else did today. Seeing her enter reminded me of AOC stepping onto the House floor in her power red suit as she prepared to respond to being called a “fucking bitch” by Florida Congressman Ted Yoho. Before Gorman opened her mouth, it was clear that she had Something To Say and it was going to be good.

And make no mistake: she did, and it was.

It was incredibly powerful for three reasons. First, Gorman was unapologetically herself: young, African-American, articulate, and proud of all three. She did not cast herself as Maya Angelou or Robert Frost, two earlier inaugural poets. She spoke with the rhythms of rap that are the language of her generation and her community, embracing the whole heritage of Africans on this continent, and conscious of her power in this moment.

Second, Gorman was unflinchingly honest. She spoke of the ugliness of our history at times, at the tragedies we have been through, and the reality of what is going on right now. There were no pious platitudes to paper over the pain that far too many have had to deal with for far too long.

Most of all, Gorman was unimaginably hopeful. If she owned and possessed the four centuries of pain poured out on the Africans brought to this country in chains and their descendants who lived through slavery, official Jim Crow, and unofficial oppression, she also owned and possessed the strength that carried them through it all, forcing this country to slowly and painfully look at its past, decide to change, and actually make those changes begin to come to be.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust
for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power
to author a new chapter,
to offer hope and laughter
to ourselves so while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert:
how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be
a country that is bruised, but whole,
benevolent, but bold,
fierce, and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
if we merge mercy with might and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

And with these words, I thought immediately of John Lewis, the happiest person *not* on the stage today.

Gorman was not mindlessly repeating the words of an earlier generation of activists, but building on them. Just as the 23 year old John Lewis spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, so the 22 year old Amanda Gorman stood at the other end of the Mall, on the steps of the Capitol in which John Lewis served until he died, and she is taking this nation one more step forward. She isn’t asking permission to do this, or suggesting this be done. She is declaring reality: we will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.

I am glad that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeated Donald Trump and Mike Pence. I am relieved that we have made it through the transition between the election and today. I am still shaken by the insurrection of January 6th and what may yet lie ahead on that front. But I am dancing in my living room right now, and am convinced that John Lewis is dancing in heaven today, because in Amanda Gorman we see that the good troublemaking goes on.

How could catastrophe possibly prevail?

52 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Thanks so much for this, Peterr. Like you, I heard her as the heir to John Lewis and his quest for us to achieve The Beloved Community.

    Our future suddenly looks much brighter. Gorman clearly has political ambitions, and I stand ready to jump on the bus whenever she starts the process.

    • Peterr says:

      From the LA Times on Sunday, with emphasis added:

      Gorman, who majored in sociology at Harvard, has spoken up in public forums about a broad range of issues, including racism and police brutality; abortion bans in the U.S.; and the incarceration of migrant children. She is also the first person to announce her intention to run for president in 2036, the first election cycle in which she’ll be old enough to do so. Seeing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris poised to take office has reinvigorated her plans.

      “There’s no denying that a victory for her is a victory for all of us who would like to see ourselves represented as women of color in office,” she said. “It makes it more imaginable. Once little girls can see it, little girls can be it. Because they can be anything that they want, but that representation to make the dream exist in the first place is huge — even for me.”

  2. Anvil Leucippus says:

    Those were some powerful bars coming out of someone so young! I hadn’t heard of her before today, but she’s fantastic. I’m going to be following her from now on.

    • harpie says:

      I read that the ring she wore was a gift from Oprah…
      It is a Caged Bird [Singing]…tribute to Maya Anjelou.

  3. Dave_MB says:

    That very talented young lady can write one helluva poem.
    This was the response I wrote:

    As I listened to this young lady, tears started rolling down my face and I started crying.
    For four years the country we lived in found it acceptable to openly deny people from being equal citizens and didn’t even try to do better.

    I know that often times our country doesn’t live up to it’s ideals. But even in the worst of times, it at least *pretended* to, and over a period of time it got closer and closer to the ideals. Granted the pace was often too slow, often painfully so, but we at least tried to do better and kept those who didn’t believe that all Americans were equal from polite company. That we kept those who didn’t think all Americans should be treated with respect out of daylight and banished them to the shadows and under rocks.

    When we elected someone that encouraged violence, division, bullying and didn’t believe that all Americans, much all people were equal and openly encouraged like attitudes to come out of the shadows and to crawl out from under rocks and join ‘polite society’ as President, I didn’t recognize my country. And when we had so many people want to keep the hatred, division, anger and violence going for another four years it took my breath away.

    But listening to that young. lady’s poem, she knows that the country is about, having her voice during the inauguration shows what this country is about and let’s me believe that our country is working for all of Americans, no matter how short we fall of that ideal at times.

    This lady wrote one hell of a poem.

    [I wrote that purposefully without using the terms racism, misogyny and other terms that conservatives use to automatically ignore something, not that I didn’t want to.]

  4. @pwrchip says:

    Peterr thanks, for this synopsis that captured the moment. I, too, was touched by Amanda Gorman she is amazing and to think she’s only 22 years old. I love poetry so for me, it made me proud to me among those living today that could hear a great poet in real time rather than a historic poet from the past from a book. Amanda’s poem brought clarity of the past, present and what the future that can be, if only we all stop to reconsider our path in life and climb onto her vision-bus that will take this nation forward.
    Amanda Gorman, amazing.

  5. harpie says:

    After a sleepless night on November 8, 2016, the first words I said, a phrase which had never passed my lips before:

    This is a CATASTROPHE.

    Gorman’s words spoke to me today:

    So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
    Now we assert: how could catastrophe possibly prevail over US?

    She said a LOT more before and after this, but for TODAY…for me, this is enough.

    I’m starting to breathe a little bigger again…maybe I will be able to sleep better, too.

  6. FiestyBlueBird says:

    That was the most differently beautiful creative thing I have watched and listened to in a long, long, long time. Live long and prosper, Amanda Gorman.

  7. rosalind says:

    beautiful, peterr. so many feelings watching Amanda, digesting her words. most of all pride in this Angelena.

    a deep rooted Californian, just ended 20 years in Los Angeles, it’s hard to get across how badly New York and Washington media covers the West Coast, often defaulting to lazy stereotypes. in Amanda i see the young teens i worked with on writing projects in East L.A., the amazing young poets i witnessed at the annual Get Lit benefits. i see the full range of citizens, black, brown, white whose stories are not told.

    a 15 minute drive in any direction from my former home would have taken me to: Thai Town, Filipinotown, Koreatown, Little Armenia, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street or Boyle Heights. everyone come together, come to the U.S., to continue re-freshing and re-building our America.

    years ago i was in my car stopped at the light by the hollywood post office. an elderly woman slowly manuevered her walker across the crosswalk. almost to the curb she stumbled and fell to the ground, hard. before i could get my car in park to go and help, two young men – one african american, one mexican american, ran over from different directions and gently helped her up and checked her out. that is the real L.A., and that is our real Country, though we have a lot of re-building ahead of us.

    • Rayne says:

      This is why I was so enraged yesterday by one of Mike Pompeo’s last tweets as Secretary of State in which he said, “Woke-ism, multiculturalism, all the -isms — they’re not who America is. They distort our glorious founding and what this country is all about. Our enemies stoke these divisions because they know they make us weaker.”

      This same pudgy moocher was born in California to a first-generation Italian American father and a mother whose family name was Mercer, raised in Orange County, graduated from Los Amigos High School, and became Secretary of State with that multicultural background, but he bashed the very thing that made him what he is. What a miserable, stupid wretch. He should never hold elected or appointed office again.

        • Rayne says:

          OMFG that’s not a dress, it’s a muu-muu, a caftan, a house gown. Ridiculously retro print, circa 1960s op art.

          EDIT: cracking up hard over this one. Check the video within the embedded tweet.

          • e.a.f. says:

            That is not a muu muu, in my opinion. they’re styled differently–own 3 of them. House dress, not like anything my Mom ever wore or any other Mom. Caftan perhaps, from the trunk of some one who put it away back in the 1970s. Really does remind me of a dress from the 1970s. Not one I’d wear, even back in the 1970s, but omg, it is terrible. It reminds me of some of the new tile you’re seeing in kitchens.

          • P J Evans says:

            Someone photoshopped Bernie into all the orange diamonds on that dress.
            (Her taste in clothing is questionable. IMO.)

      • Elizabeth Hanson says:

        “Pudgy moocher” is such a great turn of phrase– so sonically perfect– that Amanda Gorman could have written it!

        • Chris.EL says:

          Some of today’s developments…

          *I am hoping* that Alexander Semyon Vindman, retired United States Army lieutenant colonel (and his twin brother) may be reinstated to serve (in some capacity); righting wrongful treatment.
          From Twitter:
          “Lawrence O’Donnell
          Nazis invaded the Senate 2 weeks ago wearing clothes celebrating Hitler’s murder of 6 million Jews.

          Today we have the 1st Jewish Majority Leader of the United States Senate.

          is a descendant of victims of the Holocaust.”
          From popehat:

      • BobCon says:

        The suburbs around me and all over the country are rapidly becoming multicultural, and the GOP has missed this trend and suffered at the ballot box.

        In part because they lose votes of minorities, but also because white suburbanites are dropping old prejudices. Their kids are friends with Muslims, dating African Americans or going to school with Latino kids and they see the world isn’t ending.

        Pompeii wants people to ignore what their eyes tell them is true. Some listen, but the anti-multicultural screeds get harder to sell in more places as time passes.

  8. Teddy says:

    This was really cool, Peter.

    I liked our Mid-to-Elder Poet’s interaction with Ms Gorman today:

    Amanda Gorman
    Thx @Lin_Manuel
    ! Did you catch the 2 @HamiltonMusical
    references in the inaugural poem? I couldn’t help myself!
    Quote Tweet
    Lin-Manuel Miranda
    · 4h
    YES @TheAmandaGorman!!! -LMM
    Amanda Gorman Retweeted
    Lin-Manuel Miranda
    Replying to
    You were perfect. Perfectly written, perfectly delivered. Every bit of it. Brava! -LMM
    10:05 AM · Jan 20, 2021·Twitter Web App

  9. Jenny says:

    Thank you Peterr. Amanda Gorman was stellar. Wise beyond her years.
    Dancing and drinking in the delight of the day.

  10. bloopie2 says:

    Wonderful. I missed it for working, but will spend time tonight to watch. The words reminded me of the Milton Geiger poem “I will Not Go Back”, which I read in one of the monthly Scholastic magazines that we received in high school English class. Originally presented on CBS Radio (before my time): Paley Center says “This program features Milton Geiger’s original radio play inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. In his introduction, Orson Welles dedicates the show to Roosevelt’s hope that the upcoming conference to form the United Nations will lead to a lasting peace. The play, narrated by Welles, is “a broad and general discussion” in prose-poem format of mankind’s impulses toward violence and freedom. Beginning with the creation of the world and including biblical references, the script emphasizes the enormous losses of both human life and natural resources that resulted from World War II, and the need to create lasting peace through an international organization of governments.

    [the poem’s ending]:
    And I know-
    I KNOW that the fearful fault
    That is yet within me I will
    Antidote with my reason
    And my mercy
    And my love,
    Until the physician that
    I must be to me
    Has cured himself.
    For if I fail…
    IF I FAIL…
    My neck shall bend again
    To darkness; and the glimmer
    I call my soul be ash.
    And I and all my fearful wonders
    Shall perish into silence
    And my spirit walk ashamed
    Among the ghosts of dinosaurs-
    A craven, failed, and forgotten
    In The Plan.
    But I have traveled this far:
    I have set my instruments upon a promise…
    Out of the mists of time,
    Out of the ooze and slime,
    Out of the dreadful morning,
    Out of the speechless dawning of the earth
    I came,
    And I will not go back!

  11. elcajon64 says:

    “She spoke with the rhythms of rap that are the language of her generation and her community…”

    Her voice was uniquely American. She reminded me of so many things that are worth being proud of. I’m thrilled that being American will feel like a good thing again.

    That’s all for the maudlin BS. For now.

  12. bloopie2 says:

    I have now had an opportunity to watch and listen to Gorman, and it’s all so, so good. Absolutely right. Thank you for this post.

  13. Skillethead says:

    For there is always light /
    If only we’re brave enough to see it /
    If only we’re brave enough to be it.

    Amanda Gorman did the whole concept of poetry proud today.

    • Mwwa says:

      I agree with bmaz- her interview with Anderson Cooper was amazing. Her poise, her humility, and her intellect mark her as a person to keep an eye on.

  14. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    After four years of the first white president (read the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay if you haven’t already) it felt like a tightly wound coil finally loosening in my chest watching her speak on behalf of our country.

  15. Charles says:

    For just a moment today,
    When a young poet reminded us
    Of the power of righteous love
    To transform mere might into something greater,
    America glimpsed who she will become
    One day.

  16. A says:

    Mesmerizing and simply captivating. Every single word and movement.

    No need to describe her as ‘articulate.’ She’s a poet and a college graduate, would you expect different?

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name (for anyone else thinking about it, names consisting of single letters are also not acceptable). Thanks. /~Rayne]

  17. Xboxershorts says:

    I finally watched the Poem’s reading this morning, having had to work through 6pm yesterdayt

    I am incredibly impressed by this young woman, she is a complete embodiment of grace and strength.
    Not only in her words but in her presentation as well.

    I was particularly struck by her hand gestures. In them, I saw a perfect compliment to the powerful
    message of the words. Defiance of hate, resilience and determination to overcome, an open invitation
    to everyone, and the vision to see well beyond tomorrow that speaks of so much hope.

    This young woman is powerful, full of humility, Grace and confidence and I am grateful for her presence.

    America has never come to terms with our own Original Sin.

    She gave me hope that we can overcome the ugly racism that has been so prevalent in
    American society and which people in power constantly use to keep us divided while they
    raid our treasury, over and over and over again.

    Thank you for this post. I needed this.

  18. PeterS says:

    I was curious what Fox News made of this wonderful young lady but only found a rather neutral article from yesterday afternoon under the headline: Amanda Gorman becomes the youngest Inaugural poet with reading of ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden’s swearing-in.

    I also found: Hannity pans Biden’s ‘truly unremarkable, totally forgettable’ inaugural address.

    He went on to reference “four years of outright lying, conspiracy theories, witch hunts, one hoax after the other, vitriol, nonstop hysteria”.

    No, not a confession. There’s a long battle for truth ahead…

  19. Stephen Calhoun says:

    The surprise was obvious to my wife and I the second Ms. Gorman finished: the future showed up! Her presentation was a dance too.

    Biden for one term / Harris for two terms / AOC or Gorman for two terms; the future is now. And, let’s seriously dive into the future on the deep progressive bench.

  20. Jamie Jobb says:

    Amanda Gorman did more than sanctify the moment, she did so with hand gestures no other human (other than perhaps ZaSu Pitts) can match. Look at the “reading” again. Then think about any other tv presenter wildly flailing hands and arms to make points that fall in a pitiful pile of junk gestures. Amanda’s hands set the pace, the exacting spontaneous rhythm of her spoken words. They were sublimely genuine. Not “taught” in YouTube video instruction.
    Pure concentrated jazz from this great American poet.

  21. Alan K says:

    Thank you for highlighting Gorman’s astounding poem and delivery. I am so impressed by the up and coming generations! Congratulations Boomers – we raised some good-uns.

  22. laMissy says:

    Public school teachers can tell you that there are countless Amanda Gormans in our schools across the nation, but for the past quarter century or so, there has been a deliberate assault on these cornerstones of democracy. It has three phases: disrupt, destabilize, destroy. Rewind to “A Nation at Risk,” the Reagan era report which, sadly, begat No Child Left Behind and continued to inform the completely unqualified Arne Duncan when he headed up the Department of Education. All the billionaires, most notably Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, John Arnold and the Waltons piled on, bringing us the stultifying Common Core and questionable schemes for teacher “evaluation” such as Value Added Measurement (VAM), which was written by economists.

    Betsy “Grizzly” DeVos’ outstanding accomplishment in 45’s administration was to redirect ever more public monies to private (especially Christian) and charter schools via voucher schemes. It’s a continuation of what she did for years in Michigan. Because the pie for funding for education never grows larger, each cent spent outside the public system comes at the expense of the school system which educates more than 90% of our kids. One recent example: charters and private schools were eligible for PPP funds; public schools were not.

    The almighty scores of high stakes testing (BTW, what standardized tests most accurately predict is household income) rule in our underfunded schools, which risk takeover by the state and the charter industry. To avoid this fate, more and more time is taken from the arts to focus on test prep for the useless exams. Civics and social studies have also been exiled from the curriculum.

    Of course, wealthy communities aren’t affected; economic segregation gives rise to inequitable resources for students of color, particularly when local property taxes pay for schools. Look across the country in the pandemic and understand why educators in Chicago, Detroit, NYC, Philadelphia, Oakland, Boston and other urban centers resist returning to school buildings: years and years of disinvestment make classrooms crowded, with documented pandemic-dangerous physical conditions and lack of ventilation. In a December school committee meeting, Boston’s superintendent lamented the fact that not all schools have hot water.

    The Amanda Gormans of our nation present an affront and a challenge to those afraid of the empowerment of our young people, to the White supremacists’ justification that others are less able than they. Destroying public education and selling it off for parts to privatizers is a means to keeping the Myth alive.

  23. J R in WV says:

    I cried frequently during President Biden’s and Madam VP Harris’s inauguration.

    Lady Gaga did a national anthem performance for the ages.

    Fire Captain spoke and signed the Pledge of Allegiance, Ms Gorman wrote and performed a great poem, J-Lo said part of the Pledge in Spanish during her singing, the President’s Own Marine Band shined as they should… I’m sure their rendition on that wonderful day of the national anthem was unlike any performance ever!

    Happy tears long into the night!

Comments are closed.