(We're turning over our space today to the Rev. Bob
Morwell of Union United Methodist Church in Quincy, who is in
Washington, D.C., site of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th
president of the United States.)
We boarded a Metro train into Washington, D.C., a few minutes after 4 a.m. It was the furthest station on the line from the city, and it still was packed. We knew right then the predictions for a colossal crowd fo the inauguration of Barack Obama would be realized.
Even though we were downtown by 4:30 a.m., easily 10,000 people were in the line ahead of us. My daughter, Tasha, and I still maintained hope that we would make it onto the National Mall before Barack Obama took his oath. Eventually, the line began to move toward a security checkpoint at Seventh and D streets.
We spoke with young college students who had made the trip from Louisville, Ky., on the spur of the moment. They were enthused by the coming of a new administration which they were convinced would be transformative. Similar feelings were expressed by folks we met from Georgia, California and even England.
We stood in the bitter cold for four hours, but the line moved only a few feet each hour. The crowd remained good-natured but grew increasingly frustrated. A Pentecostal preacher climbed atop a SWAT van parked on the street and began to shout updates on the line's progress to those of us further back. He called out words of encouragement to the freezing masses and invited us to shout out where we hailed from. He kept us in good spirits, and you may even get a chance to see him on YouTube. His name is Terry Shackleford, and we ended up chanting his name.
But after 5 1/2 hours of waiting, it became evident that the line had stopped and the security checkpoint was no longer admitting anyone to the Mall or parade route. Even though we had come 7 1/2 hours ahead of scheduled swearing in, it became evident, we were too late … and the security people were afraid to tell us so. After all, there were thousands of people in just that one spot, many of whom had come thousands of miles to see this moment. I suspect they feared a riot.
Tasha and I decided to stop freezing and find a place to watch the event on TV. After walking about 10 blocks, we found a Starbucks on K Street (the home of the largest concentration of lobbyists on the planet) which had warm drinks and two TVs.
About a hundred people already had taken refuge there, and all the seats were taken. The crowd within reflected the crowd without. Largely, but by no means entirely, African-American, and very enthusiastic.
When the soon-to-be former president and vice-president stepped out onto the inaugural stand, the crowd met their appearance with stony silence. When they got their first glimpse of the Obama family, they applauded wildly. They applauded enthusiastically again when Joe Biden took his oath.
As a musical piece composed by John Williams was played, CNN announced that the noon hour had come, and according to the Constitution, that was enough to make Obama the President of the United States, even without the oath. The crowd cheered and clapped wildly at the announcement, but pandemonium ensued once President Obama completed his oath.
There was cheering and shouting and hugging while a somewhat obsessive Starbucks manager ranted at the now standing-room-only crowd about keeping a path open for store traffic and threatening trespassers into that lane with arrest. There's a party pooper in every crowd, but this was one crowd that refused to be pooped on.
Tasha and I rushed outside to hear the 21-gun salute. We were, at that point, about 1.5 miles from the Capitol. We missed the echo of the artillery, but even at that distance, with large stone buildings looming between us and the Mall and a stiff wind blowing from the north, we could easily hear a mighty wave of cheering rolling like a sonic tsunami from the crowd several blocks to the south.
We decided to rush to the Metro in an effort to beat the gigantic tide of humanity that would begin to flood out of the Mall. Thousands of people were on the streets who had also not made it there, but there was an overall air of jubilation and excitement.
On the train, we met a woman who had come all the way from California with one of those highly coveted tickets and still had not been able to get a place among the select 240,000 who had the closest seats. So it could have been worse for us.
We didn't make it to the Mall or to Pennsylvania Avenue, which we could see just beyond the interposing checkpoint that thwarted our plans, but we got to feel the moment and share in it with tens of thousands of cold but hopeful people.
Our nation faces grave challenges, as our new President noted in his inaugural speech. But, if goodwill, hope and enthusiasm are useful tools in meeting those challenges (and I think they are), then we have begun to overcome the problems of this time, just as we have overcome the problems and prejudices of the past.
My daughter decided it was still worth making the trip.