I worked on a local Democratic campaign here in Texas last election. My candidate lost, but Obama won. I was so thrilled that I committed to going to the Inauguration and raised money to do it. Here is my account of my trip. Enjoy living the moment again – victory is sweet, ain’t it?
I arrived on Sunday and my girlfriend, Mary, picking me up. I wish I had gotten in earlier and attended the concert on The National Mall – that was definitely the mood I was in. Dancing, hollering, hugging strangers…a party. Not that I had much choice about it. I wouldn’t realize until the actual Inauguration how serious the ceremony is. Mary, James and I had dinner and then they put their two girls to bed. I sat in the kitchen and read emails, surfed the web. It was so nice to spend an entire evening with nothing to do. In those quiet moments, the word “vacation” came to mind. “So this is what a vacation is like!” I thought.
I made plans with Caroline, my other friends from college who lives in the D.C. area, for the next day and went to bed. Caroline met me in Adams Morgan for a day of MLK Day events. We picked a walking tour called “From Slavery to Freedom,” teaching us about the history of slavery in D.C. through the man who owned the land and his slaves. It seemed very loosely structured at first – anyone who knew anything about history of the area could come up and talk. This freestyle lecture style was the only thing “loosey goosey” about the event. The level of research this group conducted was outstanding. It really made me feel so far from any kind of academia. We got a list of the entire family of slaves associated with the land and how much the owner was paid after emancipation (a law was set in D.C. to pay the slave owners once slaves were emancipated). This information is almost 150 years old! Ends up that this whole walking tour is meant to build awareness about important landmarks in Adams Morgan that the citizens are fighting the government to save, like a cemetery with 7,000 graves that is now a city park. Of course, I gave to the cause.
Once that was done, Caroline and I went to eat lunch and found a delightful Turkish restaurant. (But not before running across this funny poster and a cool kiosk). Very swank, not kitsch, and awesome food. I love cities!
After lunch, we headed to the National Cathedral for an MLK Day concert. This is the cathedral where MLKjr. gave his last sermon before going to Memphis, where he was assassinated. A rapper was the MC (lead us in a vicious rap, too. It was great!), we heard three spoken-word poets, a sixteen year old hip-hop violinists and a hip-hop choir. The crowd was dancing, singing, celebrating. A couple of times I wanted to burst into tears from joy, but I felt embarrassed. it would have been the kind of sobbing that you do with your face in your hands. I couldn’t allow myself to do it, though.
The concert lasted 2 hours. Caroline and I were pretty spent so we grabbed some coffee before heading back home. I used her phone to call Mary and check in when I got the news: Mary got a new ticket in the purple section so I got her ticket in the silver area!! I was holding out for a miracle and it happened. This meant that I would be in a secure area with a controlled number of people. That night Mary and I picked up the tickets (given to us by her friend, the Chief of Staff for a North Dakota Representative), and mine looked more like an invitation – including an official seal. I had a chance to thank our benefactor in person – he didn’t think it was such a big deal, but he works in D.C. He didn’t realize I was representing all of you as well!
At 4:45am on January 20th, I arose and got ready for our day. Mary and I caught the 5:30am commuter train, which was not at all crowded. This train has fewer stops and you have to take the exact train on your ticket. (I found out later that the parking lot of Metro station near Mary’s house was already full by 5am.) I got off at L’Enfant Station, which was closest to the Silver ticket gate, and Mary moved on to her stop near the Purple ticket gate. Here’s a photo of the dark streets, blocked off from all traffic except for buses and emergency vehicles:
People were everywhere. I knew that 2 million were coming but I couldn’t imagine what 2 million people looked like up close. It looked like a mob scene. Eventually I found the Silver ticket line and met up with three college women. We stuck together the whole time, linking arms as we weaved through the crowd. Our line wasn’t much of a line, as you can see here :
10,000 people were given silver tickets. I didn’t want to believe it when I was told, but the number of people rushing toward the gate gave me a wake up call. Our little group moved through security and ran into the open area where we planted ourselves. It was 8:30am.
I was in the back part of the Silver area but once they opened up the gate to let more people in front, our group made a run for it. That is how we got close to the reflecting pool. It is funny because we moved around a lot, trying to get a decent view of the capitol bldg while also being able to see a jumbotron screen. That is why that tree is blocking the building in the photo above and also how we ended up surrounded by a seriously raucous group. They knew who everyone on the screen was. When Joe Lieberman come up on the screen we booed. When Ted Kennedy came up on the screen, we cheered and chanted his name. Judge Thomas got booed, and someone yelled, “Hold on, everybody. We still got Scalia!” and people cracked up. It was like being in the Coliseum! We cheered for all of the Democratic Presidents, of course Clinton getting most of the love. We sang, “Hey, Hey, Good-bye” when Cheney showed up in his wheelchair, and I admit I sang it loudly. (Some might say that is disrespectful, and, well, I have to say I agree. Which, basically, is why I did it.)
As you all know, when the Obama family was shown, the crowd went wild. When Obama himself was on the screen, when he walked out of the Capitol building, we went out of our minds. We all laughed at the Oath Gaffe because we thought he messed it up due to the sound delay. And when the Oath was done, the crowd simply erupted. For days I was waiting to weep but when the time came we all just screamed our heads off. I hugged everyone in the area. It was pure joy. I stayed for the rest of the Inauguration but it was hard to hear because people were leaving. When it was done, I moved along with the crowd back to the edge of the Mall, and in a final moment of victory, I got to see George Bush ride off to Texas in his helicopter. We waved and sang that same “Goodbye” song with great satisfaction.
The moment went quickly, that public acknowledgement of Obama becoming our President. I wish we could have had a band there to dance in the streets. Instead 2 million people wandered the streets near the Capitol Building looking for food and a place to warm up. It got a little scary when I didn’t think we would find either but eventually Mary and I got our bearings straight and got what we needed. People were generally helpful but certainly everyone was taxed. I saw several people who needed medical attention (and got it) and the police walked through a building calling out for a missing 9 year old girl (don’t know if or when they found her). The city wasn’t prepared for us as evidenced by the garbage all over the city – not all of it was simply dropped in carelessness. They didn’t have enough garbage cans. That was sad. However, we waited in line patiently and made room on the floor to rest. We smiled at each other knowing that we shared a special moment together even though we are strangers.
And when 5:15 came, Mary and I made our way back to our train and rode home tired, chilled and gratified. Our country did the right thing and we were there to witness it.