Walking down 11th Street, all the way from T to the mall, it all began to come together. The closer we came to the Mall that bitterly cold morning, the more people there were. It was if the entire district, the entire region, had been tipped into a funnel, and once we got to 3rd and Louisiana, where the first entrance for Silver Ticket holders (that oh so elite group of scores of thousands), it became clear that that funnel had a very small spout, indeed.
We circumnavigated the Capital, making a second approach from the South—but again, the crowd could not be escaped. One line we walked past was over 7 blocks long, wrapping and writhing around buildings and blocks. Absurd, yes, but better then the unorganized masses that were seen elsewhere.
Once we finally broke through, we were rewarded with the opportunity to wait in the cold (and goddamn, was it ever cold) for two hours before the ceremony started. The weather wasn’t so bad when you moved, when you had to push through crowds. But just standing there, waiting, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot, it began to take it’s toll. Later, once it was time to disperse, I could barely walk. My feet were frozen stiff, and the joints in my hips stiffer, and I got a pretty good idea of what arthritis is like—or, at least, close enough for me to not want anything to do with it.
So we stood, and watched the jumbo-tron, with the Capital dome poking tentatively over the screen. There were celebrity sightings (Jay-Z! Beyonce! P Diddy! Dustin Hoffman?) to precede the politician sightings, and the crowd passed the time watching them, floating larger then life—as always—above us. A few dignitaries drew catcalls and boos: Lieberman, Cheney, Bush—sad, I thought. This should be a day of pomp and circumstance, dignity and respect, not bitterness and resentment.
Yes, I don’t like Bush, and I never did. He ignored real threats to send us to war on a personal vendetta, he abused the Constitution, the bill of rights, he told my friends and relations that they couldn’t marry the people that they love and he did it all in blissful ignorance of a financial system with roots rotting in un-fecund soil. But he’s gone now.
Inauguration Day is a new beginning, a new awakening. A chance to turn away from the past if we like and look out at the future and say, “Yes, we will do better, we must do better!” What, I wonder, is gained by hating a waning man, to focusing on the things that have gone wrong and not on what can go right?
But of course, all of that stopped once the man himself came on stage: B-Rock, Barry O’Bomber, the Obamanator. But he was not jubilant, not full of levity and elation. No, he was respectful, dignified—proud. So proud. One wonders what he thought, looking out from that podium, on millions of people.
It is enough to frighten most, just the prospect of a crowd. But he was strong, noble. And when he spoke, the mood changed, the tone shifted, and everything was different. He was not there to celebrate (not yet), not there to pat himself on the back, or his supporters. No. He was there to tell us the truth, that things were bad, perhaps getting worse. That the challenges we face in the next few years are serious, more so perhaps then any time before.
But he was there to meet them. To stare them in the eye, and krinkle his forehead and send them back the way they came. To climb atop them and use them as a stepping stone to—Well. No one knows. But a step up, not a push, or a slide, or a fall. He was there to say that America may have lost it’s way, but that was no excuse to keep wandering in the woods, there to say that though things have been bad, that they will be better, they must be better.
And I blinked my eyes, and everything was solid again.
Later on, after a long afternoons rest, recovering from the bacchanalian celebrations and the crush of humanity, we found ourselves at a concert. The Dresden Dolls, Talib Kweli, Michael Franti—an inauguration party. Not a ball, no, nothing so fine, but a celebration none the less.
And a celebration it was. It has been a long time since I can say that I’ve been in a space, and looked around, and not seen a single unhappy face. There was happiness, and light, and laughter, and thought, and most of all there was hope. Written on shirts and toilet stalls, spoken aloud and whispered in ears. Hope.
Not just the campaign slogan either. Yes, hope, we’ve heard. Or maybe it was a little bit of that. But even so, this was the hope fulfilled, invigorated, realized.
My cousin asked me, while we were there, if it was worth it. The expense of flying down, the uncomfortable closeness of the masses, the bitterness of the cold. I could barely reply.
Was this worth it? How can that even be a question?
Michael Franti was talking about the Inauguration, about why he was there, why he couldn’t just watch it on tv. And he said: “I don’t know why I came, I didn’t know what I was going to do—but I knew I had to be here”.
I had to be here. I had to be here. I had to.
Was there ever any doubt?