Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Inauguration

View slide show in full screen mode. Click on the icon on the bottom right. If you want a soundtrack for this entry, click on Aretha.

I WOKE UP as charged up as a kid on Christmas morning. And just about as early. The 4:45 alarm was snoozed till 5:15 and then I was up and out.

James, my road-trip escort and magic maker, was equally excited. We choose not to have anything to do with the Metro, so Marianne, our host in Takoma Park, drove us as far down the city as she could before the roads were closed, and then we walked down North Capitol toward the Christmas tree.

"Good morning," most everyone said to anybody walking by.

In my head, I hear the song "Hear Comes The Sun."

Yes. I'm walking into a new and brighter day.

We arrived at the Purple Gate about 6:00 and even though I want to skip right to the front of it it, we followed the long line around a few corners and into the 395 Senate Exit at the 3rd Street tunnel. Police check our tickets and we enter the off ramp.

I can't see the end of the line.

And here I thought we were early.

We bonded with a couple from Kentucky, a couple from Atlanta, two friends from Ohio, and two friends from Los Angeles and New York.

The line isn't moving all that much, but a continuous stream of people keeps crawling down the tunnel like ants.

James had seen the purple area two days ago. It was not big enough to hold all the people in the tunnel.

Four-and-a-half hours later, we could finally see the light at the end of it. But something was amiss. You see, folks with silver tickets and blue tickets and yellow tickets were also among us.

I was not going to be stuck in some tunnel while President Obama was raising his right hand. Hell no.

I walked back out and around the corner just in time to hear some woman telling the line that there was a dense gridlock on D and 1st. No movement whatsoever. I found out later Jesse Jackson was the attraction. I bet he regretted saying Obama should have his balls cut off for talking down to Black people during the campaign, especially since he was mixed in with the purple ticket holders and not seated up close in the VIP sections. Oh well.

But I digress.

I went back and told our group that we weren't getting anywhere near the gate entrance anytime soon.

"Every tub stands on its own bottom," I heard my mother say with my mouth. "We need to get outta here."

They all stayed put but James and I pushed through the wall of people on D and 1st all the way to the purple entrance.

Somewhere along the way, a woman told us that the committee had given out two or three times as many tickets as the standing sections could hold. Nope. All of the 8,000 or so people in the tunnel were definitely not getting in.

10:45. We stood at the gate with folks who had just arrived, and by the looks of the movement into the gate 50 yards in front of us, we were going to get into the ceremonies at exactly the same time.

So much for getting up early.


I'm in awe of the Capitol's facade and the river of people that seems to flow down the National Mall for miles.

The District of Columbia ain't never been so integrated.

This is it.

It's 18 degrees but I feel hot. I stand on a wall just behind the bush we crawled through to get here. The wind gusts at my back as though trying to propel me toward the inaugural stand. Up to where the Tuskegee Airmen, who I can't see from here, sit.

I feel Daddy's presence. He is the main reason I am here, on this meaningful day, at this place in awe of the Capitol's facade, grateful for the blessed opportunity to bear witness to President Obama raise his right hand.

When Bush is announced, the crowd boos. The man from New York standing next to me cringes. For a man who has destroyed international prestige, killed our citizens in an unjust war, trampled our civil liberties, and raped and raped and raped the middle class, a man who has been on the networks lately lying and trying to rewrite history, I thought the booing was tame and oh, so appropriate.

It's called dissent. Remember what that feels like?

I hardly hear Diane Feinstein's introduction, Rick Warren's invocation, Joe Biden's swearing in. Hardly hear the Queen of Soul's "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" aka "America", but can clearly see her big old bowed hat sitting up on her head like a crown. Besides a bad sound system, I'm mostly distracted by the people shouting at those climbing atop the porta potties to snap a picture or two of history.

The people shouting are those from the Purple Tunnel of Doom lucky enough to get in. Yup. Right after the ceremonies began, security ditched their checkpoints, opened the gates, and let the multitude flow into the no-man's land between the Mall and the back of our area, right in front of the pond. I understand their frustration. I do. But I find it offensive that they would shout like a mob at those simply trying to catch a glimpse.

"Shut up. You can't see shit anyway." A male voice from the bush we crawled through to get here takes the thought right out of my head.

Later, I'll see Adrian, one from our tunnel group, walking out. So glad they got in.

There he is. Robed in bullet-proof clothes. His right hand raised. His left palm pressing the same Bible Lincoln pressed, held up by the green-gloved hands of his regal wife.

At the outset, she said her husband was special. Now we all know for certain what she was talking about.

Can this be? Can it?

After the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court botches the oath: Yes, it can. The 21-gun salute shakes me to the core. The crowd erupts as though its favorite artist has just returned to the stage for an encore.

But this is no encore. This is a debut. A brilliant, unimaginable, unfathomable debut by a young and gifted and wise Black man named Barack Hussein Obama who becomes the first African-American President of the United States of America. And in his inaugural address, he demonstrates the wisdom and the gifts that allowed him to get here so young.

He kicks Bush's ass. Over and over and over. He reminds us that the time to set aside childish things is upon us. He extends an olive branch to the Muslim world, an open hand to a fist unclenched. He lets those who would attack us know that we will outlast them, that they will be defeated, his tone a threat and a promise. He acknowledges that we are a nation of people of many faiths, and non-believers, too. He pays tribute to old truths and preaches about a new era of responsibility. My favorite movement in this most remarkable symphony:

And yet at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Oratory at once soaring and rooted.

The best part? He clenches. His. Fists.

A Black man with clenched fists is President of the United States.

Ancestors rejoice.

My water breaks.

Just like his.

And hers.

Next up: The Ball

Previous: Inauguration Eve


rikyrah said...

of course, you made me cry. You always do.
I've been spending all my spare time making the copies for family, because that's what I do. So far, I've gotten everyone else out of the way, and I'm down to making my own copies.

I can't believe it, but it's real. I was so happy to see all those Tuskegee Airmen, and your Daddy was certainly there.

thank you, Craig.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post Craig.
I truly enjoyed it. You are a gifted writer.

oddman said...

And mine.

Wonderful, Craig. So glad you were there to see and feel it all.

I have high hopes for the US.

Mike Licht, said...

The Nation's Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.


charags said...

I read this over and over... had goosebumps each time.

Thanks for sharing.