¡obamanos!

1/20/09

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I’m writing this around 4pm on Monday afternoon, having just got back from the Inaugural celebrations and skirting the parade route, and WHAT A DAY! Just a few thoughts about being here during this event, so I don’t forget – and if any of you were here, I’d love to hear what you think as well.

Let’s start with some pros and cons…

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sharpshooters near the Capitol

CONS:

– Absolutely disastrous crowd control. If it weren’t for the unbelievable goodwill emanating from the mass, and the singular dedication to being “team players”, there would have been big problems. Any other event might have spawned riots.

We had Purple tickets provided by our Congresswoman, evidently some of the best seats to see Obama being sworn in. I thought we were pretty frickin’ cool, until we got to the gate, and saw just how special we were:

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That’s about 5% of the people there, and yep, every single person in front of Tessa had Purple tickets… and they had randomly closed the gate 1/2 hour before the Inauguration was to begin. Rumors swirled there had been a “security breach”, and hope flagged, none of us moving a centimeter with time ticking away. The people next to us had been there since 6:30am, and the people next to them had been there five minutes.

In other words, there was no right way to have participated. These throngs had given sweat and tears to help elect their leaders, traveled thousands of miles, and were frozen out of the ceremony, unable to move. Our brother-in-law suffered a back injury from the crush and had to leave.

Tessa stood up on top of a parking meter and gave news to the crowd: the gates were opening, but the pace was impossibly slow, and you still had to go through the magnetic security clearance. We made a personal decision: Lucy was at the Intercontinental Hotel with Laura, and while we might have made it in, we decided to jog through the freezing streets back to our daughter.

So… we saw the Inauguration the same way everyone else did: on TV!

– Zero centralized communication. There was no website, no pamphlets… hell, there wasn’t even a guy with a bullhorn shouting basic information. Would it be too much to ask, in this day and age, to have a central data feed somewhere? Maybe a text blast to everyone who wants to know, with messages like “PURPLE GATE CLOSED, PLEASE USE SILVER GATE ON PENN AVE” or “PARADE DELAYED 50 MIN, STILL OPEN SPOTS BY E STREET”.

Policemen had no idea what was going on, nor did the “Secret Service Police” with army fatigues and SECRET SERVICE POLICE emblazoned on their backs, nor did anybody running the Metro stations. They counted on our exaggerated sense of anti-boat-rocking, but as you might have heard, it made a lot of people miserable.

– Constant, blood-curdling sirens. I get it, there are a lot of dignitaries with motorcades, sure, some people were collapsing from the cold, but seriously: thirty straight hours of sirens on every street? I’ve lived in Manhattan, and I’ve spent a depressing number of hours on the road in Los Angeles – but this was ridiculous. The sirens were so bad that people started ignoring them out of frustration, thus walking in front of ambulances anyway.

Instead of driving a pen-knife into our bleeding eardrums all day long, couldn’t they have just driven normally, and occasionally used that special Get The Fuck Out of My Way horn when needed? Babies crying, kids cowering – OISH! Not to say “won’t somebody please think about the children,” but won’t somebody, um, please, um, think about, y’know, the children?

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– No toddler shirts. Speaking o’ which, there were MILLIONS of homemade and silkscreened Obama T-shirts, but they all came in two sizes: XXXL and XXXXL. Lucy wanted a shirt that had Obama’s forehead/eyes with Martin Luther King’s mouth saying “My Dream Is Come” (not exactly my favorite) but it was bigger than her bedroom.

PROS:

– Who gives a fuck about any of that? WE GOT OURSELVES A REAL PRESIDENT, EVERYBODY!!! The Media Frenzy has been trying to sell our own emotions back to ourselves for weeks now, but it didn’t matter, it was still magical and utterly fantastic. Ikea couldn’t ruin it:

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Budweiser couldn’t ruin it:

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Pepsi couldn’t ruin it:

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Even the guy selling Obama Hot Sauce on 10th Street couldn’t ruin it. The whole day was like the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, when the pathetic little tree comes to life, and everyone sings together. No amount of commercialism can take any of that away.

– Nicest gathering of Americans in history. It was like Mardi Gras without the boobs, and none of the wanton drunkenness. More like a National Championship celebration, but longer-lasting. People from all walks of life, no matter what social strata, had no problem striking up conversations with absolute strangers.

Train rides, bus rides, lines – of which there were many – instantly became shared experiences with lots of laughter. Very little whining (although I always do my best). This may seem like a cliché, and perhaps temporary, but the usual big-city apprehension between blacks and whites seemed totally non-existent. It’s not easy to put this kind of gossamer dynamic into words, but it was as if the African American population possessed a kind of subconscious forgiveness for the whites around them. Something had slightly changed. It was remarked upon by a few people who dared say it, and god knows if any of us are right about it.

Does it exist? Is it widespread? Is it only temporary? It was one of those days that didn’t punish you for dreaming.

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the moment Obama raised his right hand

0 thoughts on “¡obamanos!

  1. jason Savage

    gorgeous last line.
    my Father, whom I love dearly, always derides Democrats as idealists.
    I say, what do you have if not ideals?
    It was a great day!

    Reply
  2. Anne

    “Can’t we all just get along?” Yesterday, apparently the answer was a big fat YES. So lovely to see. (From the comfort of my living-room couch on a 50″ high-def TV screen. Nyah nyah! LOL)
    The cherry on the day’s sundae was watching Michelle and Barack dance at one of the balls last night to Beyonce singing “At Last”. It was magical. Michelle’s dress was like something out of a fairy tale; Beyonce sang from her heart and looked as dewy as an innocent debutante; the Obamas held each other close and whispered to one another … the king and the queen of our own cross-generational prom. *That’s* when I really cried! *sniff*

    Reply
  3. Caroline

    Good for your guys! It is weird that I still can’t believe it? I recorded about 9 hours on my DVR and I kept re-watching it. I’m still so wound up, I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. I can’t believe it! It’s too awesome. And I have a wicked crush on Michelle.

    Reply
  4. kjf

    I was in a car listening on the radio. When Yitzhak Perlman was playing before Obama took the oath the announcer on NPR whisphered that the transition of power had occurred at 12 noon regardless of the oath and that Obama was the Prez. I had to pull over and cry for a moment.
    Next pull over moment was that poem. I haven’t seen any commentary on that piece yet but it was really appropriately beautiful.
    And now I feel like a new mother. You did all that work birthing the baby and now you just want to sit back and watch in amazement but you realize there is still a lot of work to do. But still it is amazing.
    By the way Ian I saw a story on the news about the people with the purple tickets and the silver tickets and how they got screwed by the security gates. You were smart to go back to the hotel as the silver gate was just as bad.

    Reply
  5. Lee

    In NC we got totally lucky with a snowstorm- meaning 2 inches of snow- which totally stopped everything so we got to stay home and watch the inauguration with friends. The whole day was a big Obama snow party in the Triangle. It was also Anna’s first snow and she was wondering if Obama was coming to play, too.
    By the way, Suzanne made an Obama sweatshirt for Anna on her new single shot press. She’s selling them if anybody wants one for their toddler. Anna’s is, of course, pink.
    Yaaaaaay! The snow in NC almost felt like a gift of starting fresh again. Call me a sappy sucka, I know.
    And btw, Steve & Louise had the same experience at the ticket gate. They were so frustrated and angry & sad. Said the exact same thing.
    It’s cool you got to experience it with Lucy, though!

    Reply
  6. Annie H.

    Love seeing/hearing a few choice slices from y’all’s vantage point!!! Baxter & I watched a grainy, red/bluish-green version on CBS (the only channel we could get besides WUNC, which–confoundingly–stuck with children’s programming throughout the whole event) on the TV normally kept under the basket in our laundry room–well, our laundry closet–but I felt not a thing lacking in this delicious, delicious celebration. I took pictures of the TV, swilled Kombucha, stood up and put my hand over my heart, sang the “Star Spangled Banner” out loud (sort of), tried to communicate to the dog what was happening–while outside the first real snowfall in years tucked its white blanket around our house as if to symbolize security itself. Wouldn’t change a thing.

    Reply
  7. jason savage

    Peter,
    i think if you consider how Hyundai’s four wheel drive transfers power from the wheel that slips to the wheel that grips….

    Reply
  8. xuxE

    red white and blue is the new black. over here i think the bay area’s script is flipped now – bush personified so much of what was completely wrong with everything in the country, now that he’s gone you can’t help but want the folks who are still on that “down with amerikkka” tip to lighten up now. at least for a minute. and just enjoy the obamacy. such a welcome change from the past week, the contrast is kind of overwhelming. one minute i’m hearing my 6 year old calmly explain what happened to Oscar Grant as we literally drove past the black panther party plaque on market street, and the next minute the inauguration is streaming in the elementary school cafeteria.

    Reply
  9. Annie H.

    xuxE, your comment gets my “Amen”–I know BHO’s still not left enough for me (wish he would out and out support gay marriage, for example) but JEEZUS–WE ARE CLOSING GUANTANAMO. I want to celebrate the many positive changes that have already come about for a few precious minutes before we leap down his throat.

    Reply
  10. Claverack Weekender

    We stayed home and watched on TV. Took the kids out to do community service on Monday. Amazingly, a friend of ours got a seat on the podium.

    Reply
  11. Rebecca

    Thanks so much for sharing. My inlaws went down to DC from LI, staying with My MIL’s sister in Bethesda. They actually stayed and watched the ceremony on TV yesterday, but did go into town on Sunday and Monday to get a taste of Obamaville. They said it was just amazing to see the euphoria around DC. Anyway, my MIL did mention that she got t-shirts for all the kids, so I assume she found toddler sizes somewhere. I’ll let you know.
    Regarding xuxE’s comment about watching the ceremony at school, we had a different experience. My 1st grader’s teacher let the kids watch, but my 4th grader’s teacher did not. WTF? Another Orange County right-wing moment? I found it unbelieveable.

    Reply
  12. xuxE

    @Rebecca – keep in mind my kids go to a like 98% African American school in Oakland, one in 1st and one in 4th. but yeah, i think skipping the inauguration so the kids could do a couple of pages of long division or whatever sounds like an OC moment to me…

    Reply
  13. Terri

    My Inauagural Weekend:
    Friday: An Evening with HLS Professor Charles Ogletree (Mentor to both Barack and Michelle), sponsored by Harvard and Princeton DC Clubs
    Saturday: Clean up for family :-(
    Sunday: Pick family up from Airport; Visions of Race in America with Ken Burns at Historic Synagogue at 6th & I
    Monday: Brunch with Family & Friends; An Evening with Jay-Z at the Warner Theater
    Tuesday: Swearing-in (Orange Section – yeah!!!) See ya, Georgie!!!; Watch Parade on TV with family while pigging out
    Wednesday: Adieu, Everyone!
    Best. Time. Ever.

    Reply
  14. Terri

    Oops! How could I forget the Street Sweep in my neighborhood on the Nat’l Day of Service. Picking up trash has NEVER felt so good!

    Reply
  15. gina

    We didn’t go downtown day-of, but were in DC for a few minutes of Inauguration Day (from midnight until about 12:30am!). We went to a Rock the Vote Inauguration show at the 9:30 Club with Sheryl Crow and the Beastie Boys. There was such awesome energy!

    Reply
  16. Ehren

    We had moment trying to get on the mall in which a whole crowd was shouting down a cop with a bullhorn until the powers that be wisely decided to just give in. Then, trying to evacuate, we got into a near stampede that was incredibly frightening down by the L’Enfant metro station.
    But I totally agree that general bonhomie prevailed, despite the cock-ups with crowd control. Still, how do you control a crowd that was larger than any other political crowd in US history? At times it felt more like the victorious rally after a coup than an inaugural ceremony.

    Reply

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