“Obama! Obama! Obama!” Thousands of people roared their approval of the next president of the United States. The streets were filled with those eager to witness history. News helicopters hovered overhead and swanky entrepreneurs tempted the swirling crowds with every imaginable form of Obama memorabilia; t-shirts, hats and even condoms (labeled “Durability you can believe in“).
It was miserably cold. In fact, to say it was just cold would be a gross understatement. As my fellow Nor-Calers would put it, it was hella cold. The chill breeze seemed to cut through every layer of clothing, paralyzing the skin. I swear, even my bones were freezing.
It was also crowded. Hella crowded. Nearly 2 million people had come to the capital to witness democracy’s most precious activity; the peaceful transfer of power from one regime to the next.
Surely, there must have been something else compelling such a great number of people to brave the freezing weather and to deal with the frustrating crowds. Some kind of fantastic force fueled these people.
And I was determined to find out what it was.
Amidst the chaos, I met many people, some who had traveled only a few city blocks and others who had traveled thousands of miles to witness Obama’s inauguration.
Many were excited to see the first African-American take the presidential oath.
“I never thought I would see the day,” said Michelle Johnson, a middle-aged African-American teacher and D.C. native. “If you asked me four years ago if I thought this day would come so soon, I woulda said you were crazy.“
For some, the day was important because it meant the end of the Bush presidency.
Mark Robinson, a college student from Wisconsin, said, “I’m just glad Bush is finally out. He really screwed up our country.“
But the crowd itself revealed everything.
Like the heat rising off the crowd’s huddled bodies into the morning air, I could nearly see the aura of anticipation emanating from crowd. One would think people would be impatient while enduring such wretched conditions, but this was not the case. If people got annoyed with one another, someone would say, “Be courteous, it’s Obama Day!”
It was a festival of hope, and Obama was the main attraction.
Two million people went wild when Obama walked down the front steps of the Capitol to the podium. The cheering reverberated in waves, as the sound traveled from one side of the Mall to the other.
Next to me, an elderly African-American woman started to cry. But she smiled as the tears streamed down her face.
When Obama was done with his inaugural address, people all around chanted, “Yes we did! Yes we did!”
A feeling of faith and hope pervaded the air; renewed faith in the democratic process and hope for a prosperous new age. The crowd seemed to transcend all divisions; people were no longer black or white, rich or poor, or even Democrat or Republican. They were just Americans.
I was surprised to meet a Republican amidst the sea of Obama supporters (I had assumed they had all skipped town to gamble their sorrows away in Vegas). His name was John Winters and he was a realtor from Pennsylvania. When I asked him why he had made the trip, he replied, “I am curious. I want to believe Obama is who he claims to be. And that he really can help us out of this rut.” And with this statement, my new Republican friend struck gold.
We want to believe.
We want to believe that our democratic system works. We want to believe that positive change is possible. We want to believe that things will get better.
After years of feeling like we had no voice, like the government existed solely to benefit the elite while ignoring the rest, we have a chance to renew the social contract we hold so dearly. This was why people were willing to spend their time and money to travel to the capital and wait hours in the freezing cold to see Obama’s inauguration.
After the ceremony ended, I walked over to the East Side of the Capitol and watched George Bush leave on his helicopter. As he took off, the crowd began to sing, “Nananana, nananana, hey, hey, hey, good bye!”
And goodbye never sounded so sweet.
MIKE HOWER thinks that if Washington, D.C. decides to have 15 degree weather, then it should at least have the decency to be snowing. Please send all warm fuzzies to email@example.com.