Mia and I knew we wouldn't see much. We knew it would be cold. We knew there'd be a lot of standing around and that we'd have to get up early and go to bed late. But we had to be there—not only because we supported Barack Obama as a candidate; not merely because we admired him as a man and shared his vision of a transformed American polity that understood the power of communitarian radicalism; not even because we knew it would be an historic event and wanted to be a part of it, no matter how small. We wanted to go because, sometimes, you have to show up—to bear witness, to speak out, to be present to the possibilities that such a moment opens up. A chance for change.
We took the Shuttle from NYC to DC—astonishingly enough one of the cheaper and more efficient options of getting there. We arrived in DC at 8 am, and then got ourselves onto the Metro, which took forty minutes to get us to Farrugat West across the Potomac in DC proper. While we were delayed on the Metro, and squeezed so tightly that you almost didn't need to hold on to anything when the train moved because other peoples' bodies kept you upright, no one lost their temper, and there was almost a party atmosphere on board.
Exiting the Metro, we joined the streams of people walking toward the Mall. We'd decided to head for the Washington Monument and park ourselves, to try to see the sweep down the Mall toward the Capitol. However, when we got there, there was no jumbotron we could see, so we floated to the left (don't we always!?) and stood to the side and watched proceedings. The crowd was pantomimically partisan‡mdash;Democrats were cheered, Republicans were booed—but there was little malice. Today wasn't a day for malice.
The crowd erupted when Michelle, the girls, and then Barack were seen in the Capitol building, and then emerged into the glorious, frigid sunlight. In spite of the fact that it was astonishingly cold (about 28 degrees Fahrenheit) we were bundled up, with little heating pads in our shoes and mittens, and we were in good spirits throughout. Rick Warren was groaned at, but then listened to; Mia and I stayed for the poem (which I thought was pretty good, actually); and we loved Rev. Joseph Lowery's feisty benediction.
We knew there was precious chance that we were going to see the parade, so we made our way north and then eastwards, finally arriving at a friend's house where we watched the rest of it on TV. At 6:30 or so we walked to the Metro, had a much less squished time making our way back to the airport, and got on a plane, finally arriving home at 11:30 pm.
Impressions? That America turned out yesterday—in all its diversity and difference. Youth was conspicuous by its presence. That there was a hunger to be led, and to be inspired to do what needed to be done. That the people were willing to give the guy a chance—and that they LOVED him and his family.
Waiting for a taxi to come back home that evening, we encountered two women and a little boy (perhaps four years old)—all African-American—whom we'd sat behind on the plane ride out. He'd been wearing a "President in training" T-shirt then, but he was now covered up and looking very tired. I thought to myself, that, while the kid probably wouldn't remember anything of the day, the fact that he might indeed be a president in training—and that his elders would no longer find it impossible to imagine it so—was just one of the millions of little possibilities sparked by the inauguration and the day. Here's a brief video of the experience.