Philadelphians mark inaugural with farewells to Obama, signs of tolerance, dire warnings


Donald Trump will arrive at his inauguration on Friday with historically low approval ratings. He will be joined by the many people traveling to Washington, D.C., to either celebrate or protest the nation’s 45th president.

Meanwhile, people in Philadelphia are staging events, installing artwork, and posting music to mark the inauguration.

Here is a sampling of those actions.

For the first time ever, the Free Library of Philadelphia will host a live viewing party of a presidential inauguration. Billed as a “Civic Engagement Fair,” it will feature representatives of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well organizations that have been directly — or indirectly — targeted by the incoming Trump administration: Planned Parenthood and REFORMA, a Spanish-language library support group.

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At the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pathways travel magazine will host an event on the evening of the inauguration — the “No Drama Obama” good-bye party, celebrating the accomplishments of President Barack Obama.

“Like so many, we were stunned, even dismayed, with the outcome of the presidential election,” said Weller Thomas, co-publisher of Pathfinders. “We decided our outgoing president, who has been a stalwart champion of decency, integrity and inclusiveness, should be celebrated.”

Along the streets of Philadelphia, about 30 banners made by as many local artists will hang form the facades of homes and businesses. The Signs of Solidarity, some as large as 20 feet wide, are by prominent artists including Isaiah Zagar and Michelle Angela Ortiz.

They feature messages of tolerance and hope:

“This is not normal, but we are not normal either. We will change the ordinary by being extraordinary.”

“Seeing hate for what it is: unwelcome here. Seeing love for what it is: within every one of us.”

“We need to talk about liberating minds and liberating society.”

That last one is a quote from the African-American activist and scholar Angela Davis. It hangs outside the William Way LGBT Community Center.

Timed for inauguration

Even if the messages are not explicitly political, the timing of them is.

“It’s timed for Trump’s inauguration because there is a huge swell of protests happening across the country,” said Conrad Benner, a co-coordinator of Signs of Solidarity, and founder of the graffiti blog

“But this is not a protest of a single man,” he said. “It’s a protest of a lot of global events that have happened over the last few years that seem to indicate hate and fear has had too much sway over people.”

The signs are going up in commercial corridors of many neighborhoods, from South Philly to Old City to Fishtown to Germantown — locations selected based on foot traffic and the permissions of proprietors  who allowed their businesses to be emblazoned with quasi-political messaging.

Paul Kimport — co-owner of Johnny Brenda’s, a popular bar and music venue in Fishtown — allowed this message by muralist Ortiz on his building:

“You can’t take away our resilience, our beauty, our humanity, our strength. AQUI ME QUEDO” (I am staying right here)

“I think it’s always safe to tell your neighbors you want to do something positive and that you believe in the beauty of community,” said Kimport. “Maybe it suggests other people are not as responsible in that way, or as motivated, but that’s fine be me.”

Grave feelings, dark album

Other reactions to the inauguration are more barbed.

The musician Raj Haldar — better known as Lushlife — began writing and producing new material immediately after the election. In less than 10 weeks, he produced “Idols and Enemies,” an album with about a dozen collaborators including the Atlanta political rapper Killer Mike, Philadelphia musician Moor Mother, poets Sarah Blake and Elizabeth Scanlon, novelist Porochista Khakpour, and law professor Jedediah Purdy.

“It took the gravity of how I and everyone around me was feeling on Nov. 9 to get this done,” said Lushlife. “When I try to parse my feelings, I turn to writing and making music. The lyrics came out effortlessly. There’s a lot to say.”

“Idols and Enemies” is a dark album, full of warnings and despair about a range of topics, including neighborhood gentrification, government corruption, and global tension. Lushlife drove himself to exhaustion to finish it by the presidential inauguration, but he said the highly charged political album does not target Trump specifically.

“It felt to me like it would be a disservice to point everything to Donald Trump, when Donald Trump is the end game of a lot of problematic issues,” he said.

The album is available as a pay-what-you-wish download. Lushlife is suggesting $8, all of which will be donated to the ACLU.

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