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Inauguration Day 2009 on the Washington Mall
January 26 2009

   

   

   

   

   
 
 

“I’m waking you up at 8:00 AM because we have to be out the door no later than 9:00,” Taylor warned me the night before.
I hadn’t planned on being in Washington, D.C. during Barak Obama’s inauguration, but there I was the week of January 20, 2009 visiting a friend from college on one of my yearly pilgrimages to the U.S.
I live in Spain, and it was in my Madrid studio apartment on November 3, 2009 that I flipped incessantly between the New York Times and MSNBC web sites during the wee hours of the morning, waiting for news of Obama’s victory over McCain. My mother in Chicago - my hometown – remained logged on to Skype so that each time a new state turned blue we could call each other and celebrate with mounting excitement.
I’ve remained a loyal Obama supporter ever since I first saw him campaign for the Illinois Senate at a school in the neighborhood where I grew up, so remaining awake merely to hear him announced the winner of the presidential election just wasn’t enough.
At around 7:00 AM Spanish time, Obama stood on the stage erected in Grant Park and spoke of a future with him as president. Enveloped in the darkness and early morning quite of a country far away, I sat on my bed, glued to my laptop, and cried. For the first time in a long time, I was proud of a decision that my country had made.
In truth, it was only appropriate, maybe even fateful, that I should be in DC to see Obama become the 44th President of the United States. But I was made aware upon my arrival that witnessing this historic moment would not be without personal sacrifice, namely an early morning wakeup call and a three mile walk from DC’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood to the Washington Mall, thanks to what promised to be spotty and over-crowded public transportation.
But even a restless night of tossing and turning on a pull-out sofa bed couldn’t keep me from attending Obama’s inauguration. After just three hours of sleep and a quick breakfast, we bundled ourselves in layers and hit the freezing streets. At the 42 Bus stop we met up with four other friends, and managed to squeeze ourselves onto a special bus, which took us as close to the Mall as allowed, about one mile away.
The streets were packed with Obama merchandise vendors and inauguration goers. As our group of young Americans turned onto a street perpendicular to the mall, we were wowed by the sea of people marching ahead of us. Announcements that there wasn’t a single vacant hotel room in DC and the empty coach buses that littered the city’s streets were an obvious indication of just how many people we could expect, but it didn’t prepare us for the actual site of these converging masses.
As we joined the stream of people flowing onto the mall, we were handed free bags of snack pretzels and sticky name tags that read “HELLO my fellow American, my name is…” And everyone in our party was surprised at the almost absolute absence of any kind of security. We were all fairly sure that all of DC and the surrounding area’s resources were being used to protect the area around the inaugural podium and that the rest of us would just have to tough it out.
We tried several spots along the Mall and settled on an area to the left of the WWII Memorial. Despite a tangle of bare branches from a nearby tree, we were able to view the jumbotron relatively unhindered. We watched as the event presenter announced inaugural attendees and tried to identify those celebrities who’d attended but gone unnamed, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, P. Diddy and the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We couldn’t help but cheer and jeer as different politicians paraded across the screen. General Colin Powell’s presence ushered in some applause, something that left me baffled, as I couldn’t understand why people, especially left-leaning people, would applaud for a man whose lies led us into the war with Iraq and who essentially destroyed his credibility and career to push the Bush agenda.
Roland Burris received a few questioning chuckles, while Jimmy Carter received an enthusiastic round of applause, as did the Clintons, spiritedly dubbed “Billary” by our group.
Lynn Chaney and Laura Bush walked out together and received no response whatsoever; a fitting reception, as they did their best to remain out of the spotlight during their husbands’ reign of infamy. Why should they be received and ushered out with anything other than utter disregard?
Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama received extremely enthusiastic applause and cheers, and women across the Mall commented, positively for the most part, on Michelle Obama’s choice of inaugural attire.
Dick Cheney was received by a round of boos, the puissance of which was no doubt diminished by his appearance in a wheelchair. However, Cheney’s illness was not enough to make me forget eight years of cynical remarks and complete disregard for legality, propriety or humility. I booed until his tired old carcass was wheeled out of sight.
Next came George W. Bush who was welcomed with a resounding boo. It was without a doubt a boo heard for miles; a boo that masked the few applause of those Americans who still believe we should respect our Commander-in-Chief regardless of the heinous offenses he rained down upon his country and the rest of the world during his two terms in office.
But for as strongly as we booed Bush, it was nothing compared to how loudly we cheered Obama as he made his way to the podium. Finally it felt safe to set aside the festering rancor of president past and welcome in hope. I don’t think it would be a stretch to assume that everyone on the Mall on January 20, 2009 saw Barak Obama as our salvation.
The silence that fell upon the Mall as we watched Obama take his oath was staggering and broken only by a sharp and incendiary cheer once he was officially named the 44th President of the United States of America. The applause and joyous noise only stopped once Obama stood at the podium ready to speak. Once again we were plunged into that same astounding silence. It was as though we hung on his every word, wanting to soak up every promise, knowing in our hearts that those promises would soon be made reality.
Attending the 2009 inauguration was an event to remember, but it was not without a couple of small disappointments. Several of my friends and I were unhappy with the overall religious tone of this and every inauguration prior, as it is not representative of our government’s self-professed division of church and state.
We were also somewhat disappointed with the overall vibe on the Mall. Although several news anchors have reported differently, there just wasn’t that sense of camaraderie that I’ve felt at other public events, such as the Anti-Iraq War protests I attended in Chicago and the Million Woman March held on that very Mall. Everyone pretty much kept to their own groups and made little effort to interact with others around them.
However, seeing those nearly two million people spread across that lawn at below freezing temperatures to support a man who represents change in the United States and the world gives me more hope than ever before. As a bumper sticker worn on the back of a girl’s jacket wisely and boldly stated, “01.20.2008 The End of an Error,” this inauguration is proof that America has declared that it is ready to own up to its mistakes and right the wrongs of the last eight years.
-Justine Bayod Espoz

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