Politics is not my schtick, nor is this blog a platform for political issues.  Yet the last few days in Washington, DC, where I live, have been beyond imagining, and I’ve had several friends who live elsewhere ask me, “What was it like?” and so I’ll give a few impressions of the last few days.  

My husband and I began our weekend at the restaurant that we heard Oprah had comandeered for the weekend.  Art & Soul in NW DC.  Brunswick Stew and biscuits and a visit with celebrity chef Art Smith who wandered the tables, chatting up his new DC guests.  There was a big buzz in the air as patrons exchanged stories table to table and everyone acted like long-lost best friends.

After that we did a drive-by of the National Mall and parade routes to begin planning our routes downtown on Tuesday. And then we headed out to a suburban train station between Baltimore and DC to watch the Obama Express train drive by.  Thrilling to be a part of the crowds, among them many elderly African-Americans saying “I never thought I’d live to see this,” and the arctic winds weren’t enough to dampen enthusiasm.   

Yes, a new president took the oath of office.  Yes, the powers-that-be showed up and were announced and photographed. Yes, there was a parade, and there were balls and there was ceremony.  

Yet the thing that stood out above all on the National Mall yesterday was “the audacity of hope.”  Millions of people, Americans, foreigners, young, old, black, white, middle eastern, hispanic, native-DC and from everywhere else… we all crowded the Mall just to be part of it.  And we were.  And there was such a sense of hopefulness, people very pumped up to be there.  Many high-fives for us volunteers and many thanks to us for serving (believe me, we were thankful to be picked!).

I was thrilled to be picked to be a volunteer (a somewhat random choice, I imagine), one of 13,000 selected out of 80,000 applicants.  My reporting time was 5 a.m., and thus I left home at 3:45 a.m. to be on the first subway at 4.  The subway was so crowded that we could not have fit another skinny person on it.  Yet people sang, “When you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” and “Celebrate good times, come on!”  I poured out and walked several blocks out of the way to avoid the “locked down” portions of downtown and showed up at my duty-call place, The Washington Monument.  The sliver of moon, the lit-up Monument, the Capitol in the distance, dozens of American flags flying in bitter cold, whipping wind, all in the dark… it was breathtaking.

My job was to greet people, to welcome them to DC and the Mall, to answer questions (directions, subway advice, etc.) and to pick up trash.  The trash was by far the greatest need.   I hear that 90 tons of trash were collected today by the sanitation department!   Yet I had a blast dancing to the music playing from the Jumbotron nearby (a replay of Sunday’s “We Are One” concert) and greeting people.  The dancing was critical; it was about 25 degrees and standing still was not an option.  I served with a new American citizen (from Norway), a non-citizen from the Ivory Coast, and with a great crew of people.

People were pouring in for hours.  Jubilant, expectant, positive, unified, gracious, deferential to each other.  We all huddled together near a Jumbotron and watched the proceedings as if we were best friends, the “we” being whoever was near me.  I met a young woman from Ottawa and her young son, an elderly African-American woman, some younger women from DC, New Yorkers.  We hugged at the moments of poignancy and drama.  We left as friends.

One elderly African-American woman shouted out “Ain’t he puuurty?” whenever Obama’s face showed up on the screen.  We laughed with her.

Evacuating downtown was fun, even as we shuffled in a crowd of several thousand for blocks up 18th street, with people chatting and sharing stories and stopping to buy souvenirs.  

In short, it was a day for the record books, yes because we have our first African-American president but also because throngs of hopeful people put aside differences, braved bitter cold and showed up, mostly “just to be a part of it all.” 

I hate it when people say “you had to be there.”  So I won’t say it.  I’ll just say instead, “I wish you’d been here!”


~ by Cary on January 21, 2009.

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