OMG. I knew it would be overwhelming, but it was at least 10x more so than I could have imagined.
Here is the journal of Rain & Stella’s trip to the INAUGURATION!!!!
Newark was the closest we could get to DC without using double air miles, so we flew there on Saturday, then drove down to Philadelphia. Sunday morning I dragged Stella around in the cold to look at historic sites she was not very interested in. But to me it felt perfect to spent some time before the Inauguration at the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and to see the Liberty Bell. I didn’t realize that the Liberty Bell has been used as a symbol throughout our history. Abolitionists used it, as did Suffragists, to signify the disparity between our ideals of liberty and the reality of the moment. So it felt particularly appropriate as inaugurate a president who has vowed to end torture and restore our American ideals and standing in the world.
Sunday evening we arrived at a sweet little bed & breakfast in Annapolis run by a great lady named Heidi, who made us feel very welcome. (As I type, I’m looking out our window and seeing Annapolis in daylight for the first time!)
On Monday, Obama called for a National Day of Service. We had gone to USAService.org and signed up to volunteer at the Mt. Zion Cemetery in Northwest DC, cleaning up and cataloguing the graves of the oldest black cemetery in the country. Once in ruins and eyed by developers, the cemetery was saved by the community and has received National Historic status for its role as a stop on the Underground Railroad. After the cleanup, there would be a tree planted in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
There were over two hundred people at the cemetery. They gave us forms to fill out to log in each grave. We were taken on a tour, and stood above the frozen river in front of a crypt where they’d place the bodies during the winter until the ground was soft enough to bury them. The guide told us that escaped slaves who had made their way North up the river would hide here behind trees, behind graves and even in the crypt. To stand there the day before Barack Obama’s Inauguration and imagine the terror and the cold those people felt – well, it was very, very heavy.
Once we were done, we came inside to the mansion that now serves as community building, and we ate donuts and listened to hopeful, proud speeches. A drum group came in (including a little boy who was almost shorter than his drum), and everyone danced and clapped as the “libation” was passed in a ceremonial bowl.
Once we were done, we walked back to the Metro, and in the middle of Dupont Circle was an anti-war rally and a giant inflated George W. Bush, at which crowds were hurling shoes. Honestly, it made me a little sad, but as I told Stella, it makes me proud to be an American, because there are many countries in the world where these people would be jailed or killed for expressing their feelings about their president this way.
We took the train downtown. Here’s Stella outside the white house. There were lots of black Suburbans parked outside.
Finally, we took the train back out to Annapolis to try to get ready for the big, overwhelming, cold, joyous day!
I had hoped to get going by 4 or 5 am. But that was unrealistic with a tired 11-year-old. So at 6:00 am we approached the New Carrollton station – end of the line closest to Annapolis – and freeway signs alerted us that it was already closed – full. I was already stressed about the logistics of the day, so after a moment of breakdown, I regrouped and found my way to another station on a different line, where we made it on the train. As we approached the Mall area, the train was crowded, but everyone was in a good mood. Still, we were unprepared for how packed the station would be. Because of a medical emergency on the escalator, thousands of us were packed in L’Enfant Plaza for an hour. Truly dicey. Here’s Stella in the masses.
It was, frankly, scary, because if anything had gone wrong it would have been…well, you know. And I’m not claustrophobic, but I’ve never been underground with that many people before! But everyone kept it together, shouting “O-B-A-M-A, Obama! Obama!” and singing “We Shall Overcome.” Finally we made it up the escalator (which they had turned off), and the Metro employees urged us up and out, shouting “keep moving! Obama’s waiting for you!” Stella loved that. At the top of the escalator there were several dozen people who were already having some kind of problem. Older women were resting on chairs, recovering from the crowds. A paramedic crew was bringing in a gurney as we made our way out the station door.
On the street we found ourselves in another cattle chute moving towards the mall – another half hour to go two blocks. Stella was more interested in the parade than the swearing-in, so I had sprung for eBay-scalped tickets to the parade. I had figured we would make our way across the west side of the Mall to our designated entrance on 12th street, the only bleachers on the south side. But as soon as we shuffled our way around to 14th street, it was clear there was no frickin’ way we were going to get across the Mall. I thought maybe we’d go down towards the Lincoln Memorial and somehow get up Constitution Avenue, but there was no way out of the area where we were. (If you look at the Mall from the Capitol, we were just in front and to the left of the Washington Monument.)
I couldn’t believe we were not going to make it to the parade, and Stella was bummed, but finally we just planted our feet as the crowd crammed in closer and closer.
It was c-cold! We had 5 layers on, plus blankets we had planned to sit on. Our bags were stuffed with all the books and water and iPods and snacks we had packed for a day spent in the bleachers.
As over two hours ticked by, we both had moments of maxing out, wanting to bail, but luckily not at the same time, so we stayed.
And then…it began. We could barely see the Jumbotron, but we could hear everything.
There was some booing for Bush & Cheney, and some singing of “Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye.” At the booing, a woman behind me said “C’mon, people, don’t do that. Make our President proud of you.”
The size of the crowd is yet to be officially determined (but I’m hearing on CNN 1.5 to over 2 million) By the way, don’t pay any attention to the first satellite pictures released today showing crowds in clusters with space between them. Those pictures had to have been taken early, because by the time the ceremony started the Mall had filled in completely.
The music. Hearing Aretha’s voice ring out over the millions was the first thing that made me cry. Then, after Joe Biden was sworn in, the ensemble led by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman in its unadorned, crystalline beauty: “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…” I felt: “thank you, thank you. We need this President right now.” It’s time to slow down, to recognize and be glad for what we have, to not crave so much, to simplify.
Then Obama stepped forward and the crowd got really quiet. I thought, “Did John Roberts just mess up oath of office?” He did, because Obama paused, thrown, and then Roberts tried again as Obama jumped in and said it wrong so as not to embarrass him. It was so charming. And then all the cold, the scary claustrophobia, and the lack of sleep were worth it for this moment: being there to hear and be part of the spontaneous WHOOP of all those people the moment he was sworn in. And the sobbing (myself included) and hugging and, most of all, the look of serene pride on the faces.
I’m afraid I didn’t hear the poem very well, because many people started moving right after Obama’s speech and I decided we probably should clear out too before we had hundreds of thousands pushing against us from behind. We reached the street and sat on a window ledge for 45 minutes waiting for the crowd to thin. Stella was relieved to finally get to sit and read the third Twilight book. Then we moved again. It took a while, but we finally made it across the Mall.
Downtown, people were literally dancing in the street.
As we made our way along H street, we saw that there were still people in security lines trying to get in to see the parade! We killed time and stayed warm in two different restaurants waiting for the parade to end (and rueing the Metro-provided twists of fate that kept us from our alloted seats). But I spoke to a few people, and now I understand that the bleachers we were assigned to were nearly empty because no one made it there. As it turns out, we probably ended up having a better experience than we would have if we had spent our time (like one woman whose post I just read) waiting in a security logjam unable to see anything.
And by the way, there were NO security checkpoints on the metro or for anyone coming into the Mall. That surprised me.
One more thing: as Stella and I were sitting on the street after the swearing in, I heard a helicopter that sounded bigger than the others and looked up to see Marine One flying directly overhead. It circled the Washington Monument before arcing off to take Bush to the airport. No one around seemed to know what they were witnessing, but I thought of Nixon and that classic photograph and had to wonder how it felt for Bush to look down on his way to Texas and see that teeming crowd.
In the picture, you won’t actually see the helicopter, because by the time my frozen iPhone got it together to click, it had flown behind Washington Monument.
I am so tired but so glad we came. Stella is glad we came.
WE DID IT. I cannot really believe it.