It was chaotic, thrilling and exhausting (and let’s not forget frigid!) at the 44th President’s Inauguration for Barack Obama. I knew the minute he was elected that I had to be there. It was history in the making and I was alive, and living in Washington DC. There was no excuse.
The challenge: Getting a ticket for the Swearing-In Ceremony.
In November I alerted all my friends: I WANT A TICKET. I told my family to sign up with their Senators and Congress Representatives. I begged those that I thought ‘knew’ someone to ask that ‘someone’ for a ticket or two. I did what I could. And then I did the impossible, I let it go. I released it. Holding firm to the fact that I wanted to go, and I could go and stand in the National Mall with millions of other folks, I decided that I did what I COULD do so it was up to the Mystery of Life to determine how I was going to view the first African-American President being sworn into office: Ticketed area or National Mall. Either way, I had on my UGG boots, my long underwear and my parka.
Within weeks, my dear niece Deena received an email stating she will be receiving two tickets through her Senator from a very red state. I immediately bought Deena and her two tickets airfare and the wait began.
And it was worth the wait.
Being in the audience watching President Obama being sworn in was moving and liberating. It showed me that the country has grown more than my previous experience of it. The people who surrounded me on that day, all of us trying to get THE shot, were open, happy and excited. We chanted. (okay, I started it.) We leaned on one another so we didn’t freeze or fall over. We shared food and batteries. We were one.
The energy was palatable. It was before it as well as Deena and I were cramped behind a stopped bus waiting in the Purple line to open for over 90 minutes going no where. I could barely breathe. I had to unzip my jacket, undo my scarf or I feared I was going to hyperventilate. The crowd with its pushing and nudging was urging all of us to go. Jesse Jackson walked through the crowd only a few feet from me and it was as if the seas parted. For the rest of us, there was no where to go for the thousands in front, and behind us.
A rumor ran through the massive crowd that we had to go through the tunnel. Deena and I didn’t buy it. We didn’t want to get stuck in the tunnel. We stayed firm. We tried to get unstuck from the crowd but there was literally no where to move. All we could do is wait. Wait for someone, anyone, to tell us what was happening and where we had to go.
Another girl and I started singing camp songs really loud to help pass the time, to keep spirits high. “This land is your land, this land is my land…” and on we went. No one joined in but she and I just locked eyes and kept singing. It helped me breath, stay calm and focused on why I was there. (And yes, I started that too!)
Sadly, many of those people who I stood shoulder to shoulder with did not get into the Inauguration. Thousands of people in the Purple and Blue sections did not get to use their hard-won tickets due to the early closing of the gates. I mourn their loss.
Finally, a slew of police came and disbanded our purple mass by pointing another way to the promised land. Deena and I ran. We wiggled our way through the crowd trying to find the Purple line. We asked. No one knew. We kept wiggling and soon we found ourselves smack dab in front of the gate. We held our tickets high and scooted in.
Once in, getting through security was easy. Deena and I the day before had stocked up on provisions and purchased two spanking new fanny packs with the exact measurements allowed 8″ by 6″ by 4″. On the bulging bags strap, I had a water bottle and binoculars. Inside, I had granola bars, Gum, band-aids (don’t ask), a migraine pill (just in case), and blah, blah, blah. Let’s just say I could have lived for days. Security did take my apple. They said it was a weapon. Sigh!
Deena and I were able to get right up in front. We were only six people deep from the seated area. Surrounded by folks from Idaho, Alaska, Utah and on it went, I felt completely connected to the privilege of being an American. How fortunate that in this great Nation we have the opportunity for democracy, for change, for hope.
Regardless of your politics, I would hope that on that day you found pride in what our Nation is capable of doing. It is capable of changing, growing and evolving. It is capable of becoming more.