Friday, January 23, 2009

It's Been a Long Time Coming

After an inauspicious start to our D.C. journey, my 6 days there left me inspired, exhausted, and hopeful for the future of our country. On our way to catch the bus from NYC, we got a flat in New Haven, sped down the Merritt, and jumped on a train we weren't sure was destined for Grand Central. Thankfully someone replied to my cat-lady like screams, "is this train going to NYC!?!?!!?" and we were on our way, a bit off but that much more determined. Dave and I backpacked through Europe a few summers ago and are used to public transportation. We also lied to almost everyone we met there about being Canadian. We were embarrassed to be U.S. citizens and wanted to avoid the snarky comments and dismissive glances from fellow travelers disappointed with Americans for "re-electing" Bush and invading Iraq. Standing among a sea of people chanting, "O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA" during the inauguration left me proud to be an American and hopeful for a future in which the U.S. is respected and esteemed locally and abroad. Each time the jumbotrons showed our new president, the 2 million people surrounding me on the National Mall cheered, applauded, chanted, and whistled with tears streaming down their faces. America was more than ready for this, we've been craving it.

Inauguration week in D.C. was not a place for those who feel claustrophobic easily. Everywhere we went there were lines, crowds, and people. The metro was jam packed. I took photos on Monday of the escalator in the L'Enfant Plaza metro stop - people were only getting out, going towards the National Mall, no one was coming into the metro at that stop. We didn't even attempt to metro in on Tuesday morning, we walked the 3 miles to the inauguration, attempting to avoid closed streets and excitedly greeting the military personell lining every block in twos. They smiled apprehensively but you can tell everyone was on alert, waiting for something to go down, hopeful it would not. My brother and sister-in-law live in NYC. They called and texted all of Monday about the importance of us having an escape plan, a place we'd meet at least 5 miles out of the city in case of an emergency. A safe place we can walk to, in case we were split up. I'll admit that we were a bit afraid, but the fear never outweighed our excitement and anticipation to experience the most historical and significant event of our lives to date.

We spent Monday fighting through crowds and waiting in lines. Dave and I went to the Holocaust museum because i had only been to the one in Boston and have heard amazing things about the one in DC. I was glad to see sections on Rwanda and Darfur and incredibly moved by the many exhibits on the Jews during and prior WWII. There was a room dedicated specifically to the people who aided Jews during that time, ones who hid neighbors in their attic, took in children as their own, stood up against the hatred. I also gained a new understanding of Jewish as a race/ethnicity. I always felt that being Jewish is more than a religion but had a difficult time intellectualizing or explaining it. Hitler had come up with a system to determine Jewish race. It was a list of characteristics and determinants of blood line. Jewish blood equaled evil blood, thus we became an ethnicity, not just a religion. But i digress... We met two very nice teachers from Tennessee in line for the Holocaust museum, we talked with them about politics, race, economy, Sarah Palin, education, and mostly our hope for a new tomorrow. It was touching how open and genuine everyone around us was. We don't get that much up here in the North East, it was a welcomed change.

We got to the National Mall Tuesday morning around 6:30. Still, we were so far back that all we saw of the Capitol was its silhouette. We didn't mind too much, we made sure to secure a spot near a jumbotron. After the 4 hour wait, everyone was cold, wind blown, and eager to celebrate President Barack Obama get sworn in. The anticipation was palpable. As Reverend Rick Warren took the stage, everyone around me remained polite. Though i heard some distant "boos" most onlookers listened respectively and a few nodded along. The woman in front of me praised the lord in prayer along with the Reverend's words. She raised her hands and let out a cry of "Hallelujah" when he said, "Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood but by our commitment to freedom and justice for all." Though he would not have been my pick for obvious reasons, his message was much more unifying than i expected. I was grateful for that, i did not want him to ruin this for me like the protesters outside the event tried to with their posters and chants of hatred and intolerance.

The crowd DID "boo," however, each time they showed Bush on the jumbotrons. Was it disrespectful? Sure. Ungrateful? Maybe. But it sure as hell was honest. Each time the screens panned across his face the sea of people broke out in hisses and boos. At one point everyone began singing, "nananana nananana hey hey heyyyy, goodbye."

I suppose it's better that we unite over a positive and beautiful example like President Obama than over our mutual hatred for a man unwilling to apologize for his actions or take responsibility for the circumstances our country is in. Still, the emotion and energy for both is powerful, empowering, and telling of what America is ready for. As President Obama took the oath and gave his speech everyone around me listened silently. The crowd hung onto each word. Nodding, tearing up, and eventually cheering; they began chanting "O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!"

Needless to say it was a week of emotions. Hope and progress filled the D.C. air and the prospect of a brighter future was on everyone's mind. Though i realize President Obama will not be perfect 100% of the time, and he will make decisions that i disagree with, i do think he is exactly what our country needed. Not to mention he has already made some great calls. As a nation we have been craving a uniting force and a positive example who carries a message of peace, compassion, and hope. I am eager to see what our new administration, with the help of newly empowered Americans, is capable of.

We spent Wednesday walking around D.C. trying to get on TV. We followed around CNN cameras and walked behind newscasters without much luck. Finally we decided to go to the White House and wave to Barack on his first official full day in office, wish him luck if you will. I bought a button outside the White House on our way back to Jackie's. The button was black and white, with photographs of African American leaders. It summed up the week for me perfectly. The text across the top read, "It's been a long time coming."

It sure has.


phd in yogurtry said...

Exciting. All of it. And brave. Great pics and luv the video clips. I am listening to the "hey hey hey, goodbye" with a big smile on my face.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, USAians, on getting your country back!

Smirking Cat said...

I couldn't stand the crowds, but I bet it was an incredible experience. As for booing Bush, there is nothing honest about pretending he did much besides damage this country.

Feminist in the City said...

Thank you for this post! I was dying to go to D.C. but was unable to do so b\c of work (boo!). But by reading your post and watching all the coverage, I feel like I too was there!

Thank you!

And I agree it has "been a long time coming"! Too long!