Saturday, 2:15 PM
Yvonne Abraham: Don't forget those still struggling
By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff
Around the time President Barack Obama raised his right hand to take the oath of office at the Capitol today, J. Timothy Leary was dragging a whinnying saw through a sheet of plywood outside the old Paramount Theatre downtown.
Sure, Leary was proud. He would have loved to see history as it happened, to witness the swearing in of the first president who is black, as is he. But Leary couldn't consider taking even a couple of hours away from his laborer's job. There are too many guys desperate to step into his boots -- 400 of them in his union alone, all waiting for work.
"I can't watch because I need the work," he said. "We're blessed for today, just to be working. We're just hoping there's enough money so they don't shut the project down. There's people losing their houses, there's no money for mortgages, unemployment is running out. This happened to my father, God rest his soul. He had to take a job in a variety store just to feed us."
Vast swaths of this city stood still at noon today. Parents kept children home from school. Families and friends gathered for house parties. Strangers crowded into bars and electronics stores to take in one of the most inspiring -- and defining -- events in our nation's history.
But another Boston could not witness this remarkable moment: the construction workers wondering if they'll have jobs in a few months; the minimum-wage earners wondering if their kids' lives will be better than their own; homeless workers wondering if they'll ever have places of their own.
They did not see Obama describe them perfectly in his soaring inaugural address, when he spoke of "a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights."
They did not hear him assure millions that, though the nation's challenges are real, and serious, and many, that "they will be met."
They did not hear him proclaim the power of "hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
They were too busy.
Arthur Paygai was too busy walking the floor as a security guard at The Corner Mall in the heart of Downtown Crossing. The Liberian immigrant wishes he was paid more for putting on his uniform every day: he is supporting his wife, and two of his four children.
"If I had a job with benefits, I would take the day off," he said. "But nowadays it's very hard to find jobs. That's the most important thing, for jobs to be created."
Naiome Vazquez was too busy ladling soup for $8 an hour at her Project Place lunch cart, hoping the work experience the non-profit is giving her will convince a future employer to overlook her criminal record.
But, "when I take time off, it hurts," said Vazquez, who is homeless. "I definitely need to be out here every day. I'm trying to save money to get an apartment."
Foreman John Kerin was too busy overseeing his laborers at the Paramount site.
"We're lucky we're out working, and lucky to be able to support a family," said the father of three boys. "We can't take the time. There are plenty of guys at the union hall waiting for work. I'm sure they're down there watching the inauguration as long as they like."
None of them, not the laborer, not the security guard, not the construction foreman, not the lunch cart worker could not see our new president promise them the nation would endure the storm together, because they are in the midst of it.
It will be a long time before the country can harvest the optimism that took root today. With the celebration over, the hard work of governing begins. The hope that warmed Boston at noon now confronts the hard realities that remain on its icy streets.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. Her email address is email@example.com