Guest Opinion | Some Thoughts on the 58th Presidential Inauguration

Published : Tuesday, January 24, 2017 | 5:54 AM

Photo Credits: Sheena Tahilramani

I had the opportunity to attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration with my parents and witness a “uniquely American” tradition that has been a cornerstone of our democracy since 1801. The next day, Washington, DC, hosted approximately half a million people for the Women’s March and over 600 sister marches around the world, including Pasadena, welcomed hundreds of thousands more. Herein is part of what makes America great—diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity of ideas. The acceptance of which allows us (within 24 hours) to both usher in a new administration and speak out against the rhetoric of the 2016 election cycle, which organizers of the Women’s March say has “insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us.” In light of a very public boycott of the inauguration by elected officials across the country, I wanted to share why I decided to attend.

My father was born and raised in India and growing up he was drawn to the promise of opportunity in the United States. In July 1969, as a senior at Mount St. Mary’s School in Delhi, he shook hands with Richard Nixon during his first visit to India as President of the United States. My father later completed the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Delhi and then immigrated to the United States in 1973 (with only $8 in his pocket, as he’d often remind my brother and I growing up) to further his education as a college student at CSU Long Beach. He was on a student visa and he and my mom met while they were working at the college bookstore. It took nearly twelve years but he became a naturalized citizen in 1985. Last week, I decided to attend inauguration because I believe that inauguration is much more than a transfer of power from one administration to the next. It’s a symbolic tradition that ties us to our history—to those who have come before us and to those who have yet to come. And, it was an opportunity for my parents (especially my father) to celebrate a nation and process that coupled with a lot of hard work has provided them a wealth of opportunity.

While the inauguration ceremonies went off without a hitch, I was personally disappointed by the lack of respect shown to Democratic leaders in attendance. The inauguration crowd booed and sang lyrics from a 1960s hit single by Steam—”Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey … goodbye.” Let’s remember that these are the Democrats that showed up, unlike the 60 plus that decided to boycott the inauguration with much fanfare. I’m going to take a glass half full perspective on this and appreciate those who were able to put aside their differences for a day to celebrate the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. The inauguration ceremonies should have been an opportunity to unite a deeply divided nation in the aftermath of a grueling election cycle. And, while I respect the elected officials who decided not to attend, I wonder whether the spectacle of their resistance furthered the divide. At the same time, I understand how some might feel that the tone of President Trump’s inauguration speech may have had the same effect.

Divisive political rhetoric and discord trickles down to our communities and instead of respecting the diversity of thought, opinions, and ideas that makes America great, we become adversarial to views that oppose our own and don’t take the time to understand each other. As the saying goes, “the fish stinks from the head”—that is, our problems can be traced back to our leaders. Recognizing this, I’ve made listening a cornerstone of my campaign for Pasadena City Council because I believe we need representatives who are willing to listen and understand when their decisions run counter to public interest. As I walk the neighborhoods of District 7, I have had the opportunity to listen to many residents and I believe we need to give them the credit they deserve—they are not single-issue voters, they’re real voters. They keenly follow all of the issues that affect their quality of life on a daily basis from public safety, to growth, to quality education, and more. My hope is that our communities, including our City Council candidates, can take the lead in setting an example for elected leaders at all levels of government and I believe it starts by listening to understand, instead of listening to reply.

Sheena Tahilramani is a candidate for Pasadena City Council District 7 and is co-founder of Pasadena-based public relations agency, SVN Public Relations.

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