26 January 2009

I was there

Back in Dublin after a whirlwind tour of New York and New Haven that capped off an amazing five days in DC.

The night before the Inauguration we walked from Dupont Circle to the White House, and then down to the National Mall. On Dupont Circle there was an actual exorcism taking place, with drumming circles, burning of sage, and chanting to rid DC of the evil spirit of George W. Bush. I was drawn immediately to the giant inflatable effigy of Bush in his 'Mission Accomplished' flight suit, surround by crowds of enthusiastic folk throwing shoes at it. Who would have guessed that throwing a shoe was also considered an insult in non-Muslim cultures? We were able to walk almost right up to the Presidential viewing platform in front of the White House, though I imagine there was intense security all around us that we couldn't actually see. We then went down to the Washington Monument and watched the preparations between there and Capitol Hill. It was bitterly cold, but still the Mall was crowded with others doing the exact same as us. It may just have been a coincidence, but the searchlights over Congress projected an almost perfect Masonic Square and Compass symbol to let everyone know who was really in charge. We finished up with the obligatory visit to the Lincoln Memorial, still open and packed at 9pm.

Tuesday saw us rise shortly after 6 and make our way by Tokyo-packed Metro from Arlington into Foggy Bottom, where we walked back to the Lincoln Memorial and up to the Washington Monument, greeted by dozens of smiling and cheering volunteers who lined the entrances to the Mall and whose enthusiasm was as genuine as it was infectious. The crowds were huge, but not the crush I was expecting, it was almost as if many people had been put off by the predictions of 2+ million and stayed home. We settled in to watch the proceedings on one of the many Jumbotrons, the giant screens that dotted the Mall, and the atmosphere was one of a giant family picnic, albeit one held on a frozen lake with the giant weight of History pushing down upon our shoulders bellowing "You are a witness" in the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Spontaneous chants of "Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, wey-hey-hey, goodbye!" erupted across the frozen grass as George W. appeared on the screen for the first time, and the crowd went wild as Colin Powell, Gore, Carter, Clinton, Michelle, Joe Biden and finally Brack Obama himself were introduced. Rick Warren was less obnoxious than I was expecting, Aretha Franklin's warblings were nice enough, and I couldn't believe the cheers Joe Biden got when he took his oath of office (seriously, he's just the VP guys, what's all the fuss?). Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman et al were nice enough, but nobody was really paying attention. That all changed when Obama got up, placed his hands on the Lincoln bible, and and smiled as Chief Justice John Roberts proved once and for all that Supreme Court appointments should not be for life - seriously, any schoolchild can recite the oath of office, how could the Chief Justice feck it up? As the oath was sworn, and then again when the Jumbotron's subtitles displayed the words "President Obama" for the first time, the crowds went wild, 1.8 Million people for whom this day meant a restoration of Hope.

So what will I remember from the Inauguration itself? Obama being sworn in with his full name, Barack Hussein Obama; the first time the screen displayed "President Obama", his use of the phrase "non-believers" in his speech indicating that religious indoctrination was no longer a prerequisite for political life, and the moment when he said "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" and the camera cut to a very uncomfortable looking George W. Bush, and finally the return to the rule of diplomacy with the lines "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist". The speech itself was not the best ever, with no moments on par with "Yes We Can", but for the crowd seeing him there was all that mattered. The words of one person stays with me, who said that for eight years they have been told by their government to be afraid, and now they don't have to fear anymore.

Change has come to America, and I was there.

Inauguration photos

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At 5:39 pm, Blogger anushka said...

nice.may i link you?


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