WASHINGTON, D.C.—Addressing a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters lining the National Mall, President Barack Obama laid out a bold progressive agenda for his final four years in office. Once criticized by liberal supporters at Harvard and beyond for dragging his feet on liberal causes, Obama received praise for his speech from left-leaning activists at Harvard and beyond and, some said, rejuvenated hope in his progressive bona fides.
“I thought it was great, the civil rights agenda that he outlined, he touched on gay rights, immigrant rights...At this point, they’re not even political issues, they’re things that have to get done,” said Julia B. Konrad ’13, who served as vice president of Harvard’s Institute of Politics this past year. “People are over a lot of radical Republicanism.”
Obama’s repeated references to gay rights were among a diverse array of statements in the speech that suggested an increased commitment to a wide array of progressive causes. Running at just under 20 minutes in length, Obama’s speech promised action on climate change, reform in immigration policy, and improvements to social welfare programs.
Portions of the crowd erupted in applause at many of Obama’s references to these issues. At other points, attendees broke out in tears.
“It seemed like he was coming to terms for what he stood for,” said Faith A. Jackson ’16. “It was interesting to see him talk about things not just in theory but how they were applied.”
Jackson, who served as a volunteer for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren during the 2012 election, said that the speech helped emphasize that change is a slow process that would continue throughout Obama’s second term.
“America is just one big ship that takes time [to turn] before you actually start moving in a new direction,” Jackson said. “Everything takes time...We’re not stalling.”
At times, Obama used his speech as a call to action, telling the audience that change could be achieved with broad civic commitment across the political spectrum.
Whether enthusiasm over the speech will translate into broad support for Obama’s positions on politically divisive issues remains to be seen, but several Harvard students who attended the inauguration said they would likely continue to work to advance Obama’s causes.
For other Harvard students, the swearing-in ceremony and the address that followed represented a moment devoid of partisanship and an opportunity to witness a highlight of American politics.
“It’s [an] example of the greatness of the American political process,” said Benjamin Y. Zhou ’15. “It’s such a spectacle seeing everything come together.”
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.