How fitting that nearly 2 million people got up in the middle of the night, put on their best walking shoes and many layers of clothing, then trudged purposefully off to convene the largest citizenship convention the world has ever witnessed. Fitting, because President Barack Obama’s call to “a new era of responsibility” will require all of us to exert the discipline, sense of purpose, willingness to put up with a little pain and recognition of our national need to shape up (economically, educationally, socially, morally) that this crowd displayed today.
We came to give witness to an extraordinary moment in history. We came in spite of the cold, the inconvenience, the painfully long lines and security hassles, the indignity of portapotties, the bewilderment of Metro, the uncertainty of how or when we’d get home. We came in historic numbers despite warnings that we should just stay home. We came because we wanted to celebrate Barack Obama as the first African American president, yes. But even more, I believe, we came because we want to proclaim to the world our solidarity with this new American leader in a new American Era — the new Era of Responsibility.
Tomorrow, I will have some reflections on President Obama’s speech. I also invite students, faculty and staff to share your experiences if you attended the inauguration, or your thoughts on the speech and the new administration’s agenda for action.
Today, let me simply share some vignettes from the day.
5 am — already, students were on the shuttle heading for Metro. I joined them and the sense of happy anticipation was evident. By Rhode Island Avenue the Metro was packed. At Union Station, the crowds were already thick.
5:30 am — I found the queue for the “yellow ticket” gate, and could see that, already, several thousand people were in line ahead of me. We proceed to stand and wait — for more than two hours! People were friendly, patient, and mostly cold — a man selling toe warmers was doing landslide business.
8 am — gates open! Security screening much like at the airport, but we kept our shoes on. Sad facts of life in today’s world.
8:30 am — at last, I found my seat (thank you, Speaker Pelosi!) — and was utterly thrilled to discover that Dr. Shelley Tomkin of our Political Science Program was in the row ahead of me with her son David!
For the next three hours the crowd continued to grow, and people chatted amiably while taking zillions of photos — Nikon and Canon ruled the day, to be sure!
11:00 am — dignitaries assembling, members of Congress fill their seats, then the Senate — when Senator Ted Kennedy’s entrance appeared on the Jumbotron the crowd cheered; sadly, he suffered a seizure just a few hours later.
11:30 — the program begins with its best feature (aside from President Obama’s speech) — Aretha Franklin singing “My Country ’tis of Thee”…
Noon — Barack Obama becomes the President of the United States by taking the oath of office, and then delivers a strong speech. You can see it all here.
The ceremony itself is remarkably concise, and we were on our way by 1:15. But where, oh where, to go? I took my time wandering back to Union Station, gathering more American images along the way…. this is what it’s all about, “We the People” who, together, are responsible for this nation and its future. That’s what President Obama’s call to responsibility is all about.
Here are just a few of the 2 million who gathered today: