It’s usually not going to be a good day when you wake up at 4am. But today was January 20th, 2008. A day when the dreams of so many would be realized with the Inauguration of the first African American President of the United States. I’d like to say I hopped out of bed rearing and ready to go.
But I didn’t. I’m a human and it was about 12 degrees out this morning. That’s damn cold. It’s really damn cold when you have to walk 2.3 miles to an open field to stand around for about 4 hours. I switched off the alarm and went back to bed.
Awaking at 5:45ish, I was still not welcoming the morning. But I understood that we had to leave now if we wanted a chance to get remotely close to the viewing screens. So, at 6:15, my roommate Melissa and I set out for the Capitol Building with more layers of clothing on than anyone should ever have to endure. It’s quite the hike, mostly downhill, but we made it there just as the sun was rising over the Nation’s capitol. And we weren’t there alone.
After scoping out a spot it was time to hurry up and wait. Wait for 4 hours. In near freezing temperatures. Did I mention we had to wait 4 hours?
OK, I’ll admit it was worth it. It was worth all the waiting and all the cold. It was worth being pushed around by inconsiderate fellow attendees. And it was worth not being able to see over people who were taller than me, which is pretty much everyone over age 16. It was even worth the 3 hour uphill walk back to the hotel after being given the runaround by Inauguration organizers.
It was worth it because of all the little moments I was able to witness.
I saw little kids whining with every step they took, asking their mom and dad why they had to be here and it’s so early, knowing that 20 years from now those whiny kids won’t be able to thank their parents enough.
I saw college students who traveled from across the country to be here, spending every cent they had not on booze or drugs or partying, but on the pursuit and recognition of democracy.
As Obama laid his hand on Lincoln’s Bible, and gave his promise to this country, I stood next to a woman who was there when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream…” speech. She stood on the National Mall, amid riots and uncertainty, to hear MLK speak of a time when having a President of color was possible. And she got to stand on that same Mall and see his dreams come true. Tears streamed quietly down her face as she told me how inexplicably happy she was, not for herself, but for people my age. For us to live in a world where the horrors of her life were ghost stories, not nightmares.
It was worth it to see how moved everyone was by a the words of an ordinary man.
But the feelings of elation were short lived. Because saying and doing are two entirely different things. And because the message of “we’re all in this together” was in one ear and out the other.
There was trash everywhere. Wrappings from hand warmers, containers for food, discarded clothing, newspaper. It was disgusting. Here we are, pledging our support to this great new plan where we are all going to help each other and work together for the greater good and we can’t even keep a field clean? Even as Obama told us that there would be changes coming because for too long we’ve been misusing our natural resources, people cheered and then dropped their garbage to the ground. It was just disheartening. Hearing all this rhetoric and then seeing none of it put into action.
The feeling of the Inauguration was a mixed bag. You can’t really describe it and you can’t really compare it. I was in Grant Park on November 4th when Obama was declared the President Elect. It was euphoria. Everyone was singing and high-fiving and hugging. People didn’t care who you were or where you were from. For that one night, we were all the same. I wish I could say the same for the Inauguration.
There was an overwhelming feeling of joy and elation. But it was marred by reality. The possibilities seemed endless in November. January forced us to strip away our fantasies and face what was staring back at us.