Barack and Roll, Baby

January 20, 2009

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The Cast:
Jen: redheaded teacher
Evan: cool philosopher
Alban: fun-loving musician
Cody: outdoorsy hilarity
Tommy: creative genius
Phil: groovy chef
Alan: world-traveling maniac
Alex: smart videographer
Christy: Obama organizer extraordinaire

The Crew:
Thanks to Obama for getting elected.
Thanks to Alban for organizing all of his friends to come out for a super-fun weekend!
Thanks to Ted and Beth for helping us figure out details and for lodging ideas and assistance.
Thanks to our congressmen and women who provided us all with tickets to this amazing event so that we didn’t have to huddle with the masses over a mile away.
Thanks to God for keeping us safe throughout the day and allowing everything to run smoothly every step of the way.

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So, who are you wearing?
New Balance Tennis shoes
1 pair Campmor ski/snowboard knee socks, 1 pair SmartWool socks on top
Campmor Thermal pants
Climate yoga pants
Gap jeans
Campmor Thermal long-sleeved shirt
Another long-sleeved shirt
Sufjan short-sleeved shirt (I thought the Illinois reference would be appropriate)
J. Crew wool sweater
Columbia ski jacket
A&E knit winter hat with earflaps
Alpaca wool scarf
Marmot gloves
= still freezing

The Schedule

12:00 midnight: I go to bed without having taken a shower because there is no hot water in the CUC girls’ dorm.

2:15 a.m. I wake up to take a shower with hot water, put on layers and pack up stuff

2:45 a.m. I go to the guys’ dorm to meet up with compadres

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Tommy demonstrates the silver “golden” ticket.

3:15 a.m. We leave for the Takoma Metro station

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Waiting inside the van at the Metro parking lot.

4:00 a.m. We get on the first train of the day, already crowded, then ride it to Union Station, all the while adding people into the extremely cramped but cheerful quarters

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Inside the metro car.

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4:30 a.m. We arrive in Union Station. Alan and Phil stay on the train to continue to their stop. We get out and walk the streets with many others already finding their way to their mall locations. We walk around the U.S. Capitol Building to arrive at our ticketed sites. Alban and Cody peel off to the blue gate while Evan, Tommy, Alex, and I continue to the silver gate.

5:00 – 7:45 a.m. We stand in “line” (more like a mass of thousands of people who don’t respond to repeated attempts by security/police to get them to form a better line) to get in to the silver ticketed area. These 3 hours consist mostly of standing and freezing. Some talking and joking and picture taking occurs, but mostly everyone is trying to survive the cold by retreating deeply into their heads and zoning.

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The “line” at the silver gate.

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Jen and Tommy at the silver gate.

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Alex and Evan circa 5:00 a.m.

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The Capitol before dawn.

7:45 – 8:00 a.m. We move through security to get into the silver area. Security consists of several guys in a row who say things like “Unzip your coat,” then look at your for 3 seconds, and say, “Okay, you’re good.” We then RUN to the front of our section to get to the best standing location and begin the long process of standing and freezing all over again.

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The view of the Capitol from our first silver location.

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Before Tommy left us to position himself for a quick getaway.

9:00 a.m. Our silver standing area is enclosed by a very small, insufficient plastic mesh fence. In front of our area is a road, on which there are several handicapped individuals sitting in wheelchairs. Immediately in front of the road is the reflecting pool. Someone off to our left decides that they will go through the fence. Suddenly, hundreds of people on the left are rushing forward like a herd of wild elephants to trample their fence, go around the reflecting pool, and get closer to the festivities. Our section of the silver area (possibly about 50,000-100,000 people) sees this possibility and slowly starts to emerge from cold-induced sleepiness into action. We start hearing people around us (we are at the front of this section) saying things like “Okay, let’s GO!” or “Let’s DO this, people!” and our crowd of frozen individuals becomes one large stampeding, living organism. We have no choice, we are swept along with the surge as with a tsunami. We trample our mesh fence and rush up to the edge of the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol Building. At one point I was afraid that everyone would just rush out onto it, but thankfully, they did not. The handicapped people on the road, however, were not happy with this turn of events. They are now surrounded by standing people and can no longer see. We do have a much better view from this vantage point.

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9:00-11:00 a.m. We stand, slowly freezing to death. I actually consider the chances of my fingers and toes being frostbitten. Around 10:00 a.m. or a bit before the band starts to play. I pity them with their lips to freezing cold brass and trying to stay in tune in the cold. The music wakes me from my fog of cold.

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11:00 a.m. Celebrities start to appear and are plastered all over the JumboTron. This revives us considerably. We see Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Arnold the Governator, then P.Diddy, Jay Z and Beyonce. This appearance starts a conversation around us. “Beyonce is so beautiful.” “Beyonce is so cool.” “Man, I just love Beyonce.” “Well, of course, because EVERYONE loves Beyonce.” Then a man turns around and says, “excuse me, but let me just clarify: not EVERYONE loves Beyonce.” That shut up that inane discussion. One person says, “Wow, I wish they had started showing us celebrities a long time ago! This is fun!” Commentary continues.

11:20 a.m. Everyone in our section has been waiting with saliva gathering lushly for the moment where they can boo George W. Bush. They have also been waiting with eager anticipation the first glimpse of Obama. Unfortunately for our crowd, the first sight of both was together. The crowd didn’t know what to do, so they cheered for Obama. But, many comments were made afterward, “They’d better show Bush by himself so we have our chance to boo.” Sure enough, the Bush families arrive. Barbara, George H.W., Jenna, Barbara, husband of one of them, Laura, etc. Booing commences. Joe Lieberman receives enormous boo from our section. Then, when George W. Bush finally steps out, the boos are extreme. Someone in the crowd starts singing “nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!” It continues on and on, growing louder and louder. It seems to me, from my place, that all 2 million people are singing it. At that moment I felt really bad for him. I mean, even with so many horrible decisions and leadership, he did serve our country for 8 years, and it seems like the least we could have done was given him a courtesy clap, or even respectful silence. But, I guess the crowd was there to show Obama that they love and support him, and this was one way of doing that: showing how fed up they are of the way things have been run for 8 years, and demonstrating that they have renewed confidence and hope because of Obama.

11:35ish Obama comes out, along with the sun. Massive cheers. Tears.

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11:30-12:30 The ceremony was a beautiful thing. Highlights included some goofball antics by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts and dear new prez Barack cracking the whole thing up during the most solemn moment: the swearing in. Amazing John Williams arrangement of Simple Gifts played by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and awesome clarinetist (yay clarinet!) and awesome pianist (yay piano!). Really cool prayer at the end with some great quotable quotes.

12:30-1:15 Slowly making our way out of our ticketed area with the masses and finding our way back around and up Capitol Hill to meet at our designated cafe for hot chocolate and coffee. At this point Tommy, Alan, and Phil were making a mad dash for Union Station to try to make their 2:00 p.m. train to BWI for their 6 p.m. flight. They made it!

1:15-1:45 Drinking hot chocolate and debriefing on different perspectives

1:45-3:30 Wandering around DC looking for food, cool inauguration shirts, etc.

4:00 Exit city via metro for Takoma Station

Statistics:

2 million people (official count still unreleased)
8 degree F wind chill

Favorite Quotes:

From Obama’s Inaugural Address:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

From the solemn then unexpectedly hilarious benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.”

Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem:

“Praise Song for the Day”

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by “first do no harm,” or “take no more than you need.”

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Cheers:
Obama for being so cool.

Obama for having a poet read at his inauguration

The crowd for behaving themselves and being friendly and cheerful for the most part. No arrests or major incidents of note.

The band who played on tirelessly in the freezing cold

Jeers:

DC Security/Police who didn’t really seem to have a lot of organized information about how crowds/lines were to be handled, although most of the officers we spoke with were helpful and nice.

Whoever made the decision not to have enough JumboTrons

To the lack of cool flyover by jets with colored smoke trailing after them (probably for security concerns).

Summary:
Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I was so glad to be there. I am proud to live in a country where the peaceful transition of power is a regular part of government. I’m happy to have good friends to spend time with. I’m happy that at the end of a long, cold day, I have a warm house to come home to.

6 thoughts on “Barack and Roll, Baby

  1. What a terrific blog of the events! Thanks for sharing the details with those of us who chose to stay home/work in the warmth. 🙂

    How are the fingers and toes doing?

  2. Very cool. So, did you hear that the performance by Yo-Yo Ma and company was recorded? He put soap on his bow so his cello wouldn’t make any noise. They also took the hammers off the piano.

  3. I loved reading this post–almost felt like I was there. Except warmer. Also, who is this Tommy person? He looks familiar, but I can’t imagine where I would know him from…

  4. Thanks for a wonderful account of your exciting day. I’m so happy for you (and proud!) that you got to be there as an eyewitness. I probably would not have had the fortitude to deal with the cold and the crowd.

    I agree it was an absolutely momentous day. Even those of us who did not support Obama are very grateful for the spirit of the event, the peaceful transfer of power, and the possibilities that the new administration brings in a lot of different areas.

    Having said that, though, I want to add two possibly dissonant notes:

    1) The jeers for President Bush reflect very poorly on the people involved. I too, as a former supporter of his, have had my share of serious disappointments in his leadership. But I’m sorry, folks, you just don’t boo the President of the United States. Who could have thought this a classy thing to do?

    2) Again, I’m sorry, but Joseph Lowery’s benediction was anything BUT cool. It was in incredibly bad taste! Read it over again and see if you still think it was in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. I also have some background which you may not have, because I have followed Lowery’s career for many years. He is merely a hack who quickly, opportunistically, wrapped himself in the mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the mainstream media have spent decades ignoring his habitually outrageous rhetoric. It’s truly unfortunate that the Obama people felt they needed to include him. They had to have known that he’s a loose cannon, not always fired responsibly.

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