WASHINGTON, D.C. A frigid 15 degrees, one and a half million people, the 44th president of the United States of America — the overwhelming elation and excitement at the inauguration of Barack Obama could only be described in numbers.
After years of hoping for better national leadership, gathering in the nation’s capital this past weekend with massive crowds was a thrilling experience for me, one filled with relief and a sense of dreams fulfilled.
I journeyed to Washington D.C. to witness and be a part of history. As soon as I arrived in town, I was met with an atmosphere of patriotism and enthusiasm in anticipation of the inauguration. Obama posters, T-shirts, hats, and pins were on display in nearly every shop and on sale on every street corner. Everyone I met was ecstatic for the weekend’s inaugural events, official and unofficial, even in the bitter winter weather.
On the Sunday before the inauguration, a group of friends and I headed for the Lincoln Memorial, where the We Are One concert took place. The crowds flooded around the Reflecting Pool, in the likeness of 1963’s march on Washington, to gather for a program filled with classic American songs. Bruce Springsteen took the opening performance and was followed by a notable line-up: James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Josh Groban, Jon Bon Jovi, Beyonce, and more.
The audience was singing along joyfully and dancing with friends, creating a cheerful ambiance in celebration of the first African-American president at the very same place where the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Most touching of the performances was Pete Seeger’s arrangement of “This Land is Your Land,” ringing of an air of childhood school songs and patriotic spirit, having once been the anthem of the New Deal era.
We Are One was the most memorable pre-inauguration event I attended because the air of excitement built up the suspense for bringing President-elect Obama into office.
The next day, Obama called upon the American citizens to celebrate MLK Day as a day of service. My friends and I visited a neighborhood clean-up project, where we picked up pounds of broken beer bottles, hundreds of cigarette butts, and layers of litter from the sidewalks, curbs, and among the residences. Within two hours, the area we were designated hardly resembled the worn-down and gray community it had been before. Participating in this event not only was fulfilling personally, but it also brought in the feeling of a renewed government, promoting involvement within the community and the importance of cooperating toward a common cause, whose leaders would be officially installed the following morning.
On the day of the inauguration, I woke up at 5:30 a.m., which turned out to be rather late considering many other of the attendees I spoke to headed to the venue as early as 2 a.m., hoping to find the best spot to stand available since they did not have tickets. My friends and I made our way to the nation’s capital from the Georgetown campus at 6 a.m. Knowing that many of the streets would be blocked, highways in gridlock, and the subways swamped, we just walked. Already, there were large groups of all ages and nationalities, marching their way to the mall and when we arrived, all was hectic. The lines were unorganized, the police were very much uninformed, and hardly anyone knew where to go. Driven by our determination, we forced our way through the crowds in any accessible direction that seemed hopeful.
A friend and I had tickets and we struggled to find our way to the ticketed entry gate; the streets around the mall were like a maze with randomly blocked streets and no signs. In the dense crowds it was nearly impossible to get anywhere. Many around me were pushy and aggressive. The atmosphere was hardly anything in resemblance to the spirit of unity and cooperation which Obama had called for and that I had enjoyed at the We Are One concert.
Five hours later, we finally made our way to the ticketed standing area, and I inhaled the chilly air, finally feeling a pang of relief. In a way, our passage through the biting cold and tumultuous crowds was symbolic of the struggle to a better administration, Obama being the warmth that kept us moving onward. I was still very grateful that I hadn’t been among the thousands who had arrived ten hours earlier, curled up in blankets upon the frosty grass in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Soon, images of the motorcade appeared on the Jumbotrons, the choirs started singing, and the Marine Band started playing traditional Sousa marches. Prominent figures of our national government appeared one by one, some better received than others. John McCain received polite claps, the crowd roared for Bill and Hillary Clinton, and when President George W. Bush arrived, the mall rang with loud boos and the singing of classic Steam lyrics “Na na na na, hey hey hey, good bye.”
However, when Barack Obama and Joe Biden stepped out, the cheers were deafening. Obama was calm and poised, and the electrifying energy of the crowds was enough for one to forget about the numbness in their fingers and toes. Soon, he was sworn in and made his inaugural address. I must admit, I was very much prepared to cry hearing his words, expecting over-the-top, souring rhetorical embellishments. However, his speech was very business-like. It was a serious and solid address which, as Santa Monica High School alumnus, Henry Gruber, who was also at the Mall described, “showed the gravity of the problems we faced as a nation and a determination to get through them … although I was not as emotionally blown away as I expected, I left with a resolve to help get things done.”
I walked away from the nation’s capital knowing that I, even as a young citizen, have a civic duty to pay to my country. We must all continue to participate in community activities to renew America’s promise, the American dream. Standing there in the country’s capital, I saw Obama coolly assure his people that in the next coming years, he will manage the United States with a rational mind and I know that I too have a job to fulfill to maintain the values of this outstanding nation.
Adriana Wong is a student correspondent and a junior at Santa Monica High School. Politics is one of her most intrinsic passions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org