I am still on a high, having visited and hung out with my dearest friends for a week and making the trek together to witness Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. That's right - I made it to the Inauguration! Many people contributed to making this happen for me, and I am so, so thankful. Truly, participating in that day meant so very much to me.
Without exaggeration, for the first time in my life, I felt proud to be an American. I am sure that sounds trite and cliche at this point, but it is true.
I have always been committed to the great experiment that is America with equal parts ownership and criticism as is required by active citizenship. But last Tuesday -- and that Tuesday in November- - I was proud, rather than just acting out of duty, to be a part of such a wonderful day, to help write a new page in our collective history book.
I waved my little American flag with pride and hope, jumped up and down and shouted in glee, hugged total strangers in shared jubilation and was unashamed of the tears that rolled down my face.
I spoke with my father on the phone the evening before the Inauguration. I inherited my spirited engagement in politics and civics from this man, as well as my (righteous) anger at the Dodo Administration. For eight years, I have heard this man agonize over the increasing loss of civil liberties, increasing obstacles for working-class and poor Americans to make a living, and the increasing role of fear in our lives. My father has spent most of the last eight years angry. He had spent years before that angry and hopeless. In our household, "trickle down" is a naughty, cruel phrase.
Last Monday, however, his tone was entirely different. He was so hopeful. He voice was light; he laughed. He was proud of his fellow citizens, instead of flabbergasted by them. He was happy.
I cannot adequately explain how much it touched me to hear hope and optimism restored in my father's voice.
I flew in and out of NYC, so the logistics of getting from a small town in Wyoming to the final destination of Washington, DC and back were complicated and exhausting. One vehicle (that I drove), three shuttles, one bus, one train, and two airplanes were involved. Sometimes, travel happened in the middle of the night, after successive nights of two or three hours sleep.
And it was so worth it.
The night before the Inauguration, I stayed at a dear friend, Doe's, house with most of the crew I used to run around with in DC, including my two best friends, DPR and JelBel. Gatherings at Doe's house are what I miss most about DC; they are warm times surrounded by family, and they just mean so much to me. This evening was no exception and was one of the many highlights of the trip.
The day of, we all got up in the dark, many after arriving home only three hours earlier from a ball. (I didn't go; I used the opportunity to visit more friends. Hi M & E!) We were out the door around 6:30 a.m., about a half-an-hour later than we'd planned. Not bad for getting over 10 people up and moving!
After seeing that the buses did not look too full, we decided to take one into the city. Unfortunately, we hopped on the wrong bus and ended up at the Pentagon Metro Station. It wasn't too crowded so we decided to take the Metro in. The trains were full, but not intolerable.
Until we got off at L'Enfant Plaza. HOLY SHIT. I have never seen a place so crowded. We didn't really walk, rather we just sort of shuffled our feet and let the momentum of the crown move us forward. At one point, because the exiting crowds were so backed up, Metro LOCKED US IN and then let us out in waves. Nuts.
The crowds at the ticketed gates of the Capitol (I landed a silver ticket! Thanks DR!) were equally huge, slow-moving and frustrating.
However, even during the most frustrating times, whether we were hot or cold, I never saw a single person - of my two million neighbors - have a meltdown. Not a one. There were no threats, no scuffles, no shouting. Not even the children who were out and about and that we walked past during our 4+ mile walk home afterward were struggling. When folks started to feel tense while trapped in the metro, people started chanting "O-BA-MA!" or started singing celebratory hymns. It was such a positive, deliberate day of peaceful jubilation. (When I returned, all of my co-workers had heard that there had not been a single arrest. Does anyone know if this is true? I certainly did not see any trouble.)
I was so impressed with everyone. It was so strange - and so exhilarating - to be surrounded by people acting out of hope, rather than fear.
Yes, we can.
UPDATE: My only regret: Not managing to meet up with Jess and Alice. Next time, for sure!