Two Years Ago Today Obama Was Inaugurated: I Was There
My wife and I -- both of us Democratic activists -- were so certain that a Democrat would win the White House in 2008, we decided to attend the inauguration and promptly made hotel reservations in DC before anybody even knew who the nominee would be. (We were guessing it would be Hillary or Barack.)
It turned out to be a good idea. We secured a huge double room for $200 a night. As Inauguration Day drew closer, room prices rose to $1200.
I’d only been to DC once, in 1969, exactly forty years before. I'd come to protest the Vietnam War with a million others. We had marched to the White House carrying our signs, while military snipers watched us from the roofs of government buildings and Nixon was holed-up silently in the White House.
Excited as were about the outcome of the 2008 election, we were not really prepared for what we saw in DC when we arrived -- thousands upon thousands of people in the streets, a veritable pilgrimage with a distinct party atmosphere. DC was feverishly Obama-crazy. There were adoring signs everywhere. Huge warehouse- sized stores and vendors on every corner hawked Obama memorabilia – everything from coffee mugs to Obama bobble-heads to (no joke) prophylactics with Obama’s face on the covers of the packages.
There were so many Humvees and troops clad in camouflage roaming the streets of DC, we all thought the Iraq War was over and everybody had come home.
It was also frigid, especially for us thin-blooded Californians. On the day of the inauguration, we rose at five a.m. and, managed somehow to get a cab to a spot on the Mall, almost half a mile away from the Capitol Building. Predictably, the area was already mobbed. The ceremony wouldn’t start until noon, so most of us stood in place jumping from one foot to the other and adjusting the hand and foot warmers the hotels had handed out. But nobody cared about the cold. The anticipation of seeing the Great Man in person kept us warm.
An irony occurred to me as I stood there. Approximately 60 years before, President Truman had begun the process of desegregating the Armed Forces. Today, an African-American would become commander-in-chief.
On that sunny morning, on the Mall, we were surrounded by two million people, all of them inebriated with pure exhilaration, all of them fully conscious that they were attending one of the most historic events in recent memory. The camaraderie was contagious, the joy palpable. There was no violence, no incivility, no shoving, no arguing, no yelling, in spite of the fact that there weren’t nearly enough Porta Potties.
The crowd was so civil that, even when George Bush and Dick Cheney appeared on the Capitol steps nobody heckled or booed.
Of course, the whole place exploded when the ceremony started and Obama was sworn in. There were tears, lots of tears. Elderly people broke down and sobbed. High fives were exchanged everywhere. I saw cops and soldiers with tears in their eyes. The crowd represented the American melting pot –- whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, young, old, rich, poor –- and when Obama spoke the last words of the oath, “So help me God,” a pandemonium of random screaming, flag-waving, hugging, back-slapping, kissing and impromptu dancing broke out.
Has Obama lived up to the euphoria of that day? Of course not. Has racism disappeared in America as we had hoped it would? No. At least not in many parts of the country. Is Obama a great president? The jury is still out.
But I like to believe that all of us assembled on the Mall that cold day in January were thinking the same thing -- that once again, after a long period of mediocrity, our country had done something truly remarkable.
Photos courtesy of: workitmom.com, inspiring-matter.blogspot.com, hubimages.com, nj.com, politicalwobbles.com, asiantribune.com