Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hyped on Hope, Part II: My Inauguration Story

I wasn’t going to go. It wasn’t because I don’t love Barack Obama & Joe Biden because God knows I do -- & so does anyone who’s ever met me or read this blog. But as I mentioned last week, I wasn’t digging the idea of hanging out in Arctic temps with a couple million of my closest friends. Friends who have no idea how to maneuver the District. Friends who stand on the left side of escalators, who are constantly lost & standing in the middle of the sidewalk, who are excited & exhausted & obnoxious all at once.

But on Sunday afternoon, I was lucky enough to attend the EMILY’s List luncheon courtesy of a colleague who had extra tickets. I sat in a sea of hundreds of feminists, listening to impassioned, pro-choice, Democratic speeches from some of the country’s most powerful women – North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, newly elected Senators Kay Hagan & Jean Shaheen, homeland security secretary designee Janet Napolitano, labor secretary designee Hilda Solis and, finally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And being in a room with such powerful, positive & perseverant women talking about the future of our country – & the incredible changes we faced, two days before Barack Obama’s inauguration – I realized there was no way I could NOT attend Tuesday’s ceremony.

So I stayed with a friend Monday night, slept on her floor in a camping sleeping bag that made me feel a lot like a mummy, & we woke up around 7:30 to bundle up in layers – for me, this meant two pairs of tights (which I reasoned was like wearing one pair of pants) under jeans, with a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, a hoodie & my Obama tee on top, plus a peacoat. I threw the bare essentials (debit card, keys, cell, Carmex & camera) in my pockets, scarfed a granola bar & headed out into the cold for our 2+ mile walk.

It seemed fine for the first couple of blocks, but as we reached the Farragut area, we found ourselves walking with a steady stream of Mall-goers. Realizing we were flair-free, we scavenged for Obama buttons & assailed the first street vendors we found. And then, miraculously, we were on the Mall, watching the sun rise over the Washington Monument. We snapped some photos, chose a Jumbotron & settled in for the long haul.

To my surprise, I never experienced what my friend Sarah calls “The Moment.” There was no tangible culmination, no big build-up to the moment I was sure was coming after months of support & campaigning & hoping & praying & watching & waiting. There was no floodgate of tears, no uncontrollable sobbing, no apex to the day. But there were millions of people – people as far as I could see both forward & backward – watching history as it occurred. And what I think is most powerful is that normally when people say that, normally when we “witness history,” it’s something negative – it’s watching JFK get shot or seeing the towers fall. The most amazing part, to me, was being present for positive history in the making – for a day in time that undoubtedly changed the course of this country for the better. And if there was never “The Moment,” it’s only because this positive change has been so long coming – because our country is so desperate & disparate that we could not help but trade an eager climax for a sigh of relief.

So, yes. I watched history happen. I was a part of history. Those photos of 1.8 million people crowing the National Mall? I’m there somewhere, in my borrowed Princeton gloves & my ear-flap hat with the turkeys on it, standing between the Washington Monument & the first Jumbtotron. I’m there somewhere, shifting my weight to keep my feet warm & trying to see around the tall guy in front of me, singing “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye” to George W. Bush & trying to start “Yes, we can!” chants. I’m there with my head bowed during Rev. Rick Warren’s only mildly offensive invocation & later, with my head held high as President Obama put his hand on Lincoln’s Bible & took that fumbled oath. I’m there somewhere, with all those people & all that hope – and who needs “The Moment” when the whole day holds so much significance?





PS: Photos are
here.

4 comments:

thebrowncoat said...

I had my Moment on Election Night - after they declared Obama the winner up to and through his speech in Grant Park...I just couldn't stop crying. 8 years of incredible frustration and anger replaced so suddenly by hope and joy.

Inauguration Day felt a little underwhelming compared to that...in my mind, I guess he already was President and this was just the final formality. Still, I wish I could have been there.

Emily said...

My Moment was also on election night, but there's no doubt it would have been incredible to be present for the inauguration. Your account of the day is really wonderful. :)

Sarah said...

Well said!

emily said...

Your Emily's List lunch sounds great! I agree with your description of the day, it was amazing to be there, but we all felt it was almost anticlimactic after all that had happened to get him elected and election night.

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