Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Update

Yesterday was a tremendously historic day for the United States. The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States marked the 56th time a democratically elected leader was sworn into leadership in the United States, and the first time said leader was an African-American. The crowds that swarmed DC to witness this event broke long-held records. In celebration, two days before the inauguration, a massive concert was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial containing enough star power to solve the energy crisis. It was an amazing weekend, and while I didn't participate in everything, I was lucky enough to be in DC for the entirety of it.
The We Are One concert was held on Sunday January 18th on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President-elect Obama and Vice-President-elect Biden both attended with their families. Actors and prominent public figures did readings, including Tom Hanks, George Lopez, Denzel Washington, Martin Luther King III, Jack Black, and Jaimie Foxx. Musical performances included Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Stevie Wonder, U2, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, and Josh Groban. Around 750,000 people attended...I was not one of them. I did, however, watch the concert on TV from my dorm, twice-- the initial broadcast and the re-broadcast. It was an incredible demonstration of musical talent and patriotism. If you missed it, I urge you to watch for clips on YouTube and for the DVD version that I suspect HBO will be releasing at some point.
On the Monday night before the Inauguration, I went downtown with a group of my friends. We took the Metro to the center of town and walked to the White House to look at the building and the parade route, including the presidential reviewing stand. It was weird being able to walk down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the next day the president would be walking. Then my friends and I walked the 25 or so blocks to Georgetown for dinner, then walked around the historic district and university of Georgetown before taking the bus back to campus around 11:30-midnight.
Four and a half hours of extremely interrupted sleep later, I was awake and getting ready to go downtown for the inauguration with my friends Stephen, Nick, and Bharat. I've always been a firm believer in layers, and today was no exception: underarmor shirt and pants, two pairs of socks, long-sleeved cotton shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, jeans, jacket, scarf, thick gloves, hat, hood. Despite all this, it was still cold enough that I was wishing for boots, a blanket, and an extra scarf to wrap around my face.
We took the Metro downtown, then walked about 12 blocks to the nearest security checkpoint to get onto the Mall (with a quick stop at McDonald's for some food). We stood at this checkpoint for two hours waiting to get through the gates, but after we had only moved about 100 feet in that amount of time, we opted to get out of line and go further down the Mall to where you didn't have to go through a checkpoint. As a result, we wound up near the base of the Washington Monument to watch the ceremony. We had line of sight to the Capitol, though we couldn't tell what was going on except on the many jumbotrons and speakers set up all along the Mall.
I was struck by the sense that so many people seemed to recognize the significance of the moment. Emotions were high along the Mall by people who were ecstatic that the US had reached this point in its history. Everyone was excited and largely in a good mood, despite the bone-numbing cold and lack of sleep. I enjoyed every part of the ceremony, from Rick Warren's invocation to Itzak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma's music...but an extra chill, unrelated to the weather, went down my spine when Barack Obama took the oath of office as President of the United States. The peaceful transition of power is remarkable in this country. After a presidency as controversial as George W. Bush's, after a campaign as bitter as the one between Hillary Clinton and Obama, then McCain/Palin and Obama, each person I just mentioned was able to stand on the platform and honor the democratic will of the American people as they watched Barack Obama be sworn in. That said, however, I was rather disgusted by the booing that went up along the Mall as Bush walked onto the platform. Whether or not you agree with the man, he was President of the United States, and if nothing else the office deserves a degree of respect.
My friends and I opted to start leaving as soon as Obama's (in my opinion excellent) inaugural speech was done--given the crowds, this proved to be a good idea. We left around 12:30-12:40, and walked to Foggy Bottom to the Metro station at George Washington University to catch the train back to AU. It took us three hours to get back to campus, for a commute that on a normal day might take half an hour. I spent the rest of the day on the couch in the lounge in front of the TV trying to thaw out, napping and watching the parade and news coverage of Ted Kennedy's collapse at the Senate luncheon and later on the inaugural balls.
The consensus among my friends seems to have been that while the experience was well worth what we went through (lack of sleep, little food, freezing temperatures, huge crowds, etc), for all those reasons it still kind of sucked! Still, it was a historic day, and I was honored to have been able to be able to watch what was going on, even from such a distance.
I've been rambling about this for far too long now, and I appreciate your bearing with me. I posted a number of photos on Facebook, which can be viewed at by clicking here. There are also a couple of videos below. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Ida said...

Thank you Carolyn for this thoughtful reflection on a long awaited transition of acceptance "OF ANYONE CAN BE A PRESIDENT" regardless of race, colour or creed. I spent about 10 hours watching the event--it was meaningful to me. I lived in Boston when JFK came into the presidency and saw him on TV when he was shot, then Robert Kennedy's demise followed later by MLK.

I wondered where you were in the crowd and kept watching for a freak moment when I would catch a glimpse of you. And I hoped you had your good warm Canadian winter boots on--it looked very cold there. You have survived a moment in history which you can talk about to your grandchildren

Thank you for sharing this wonderful "I was there account"