I have no connections to speak of. I was not born under a lucky star. But, perhaps this is what this election is about — being able to attend a significant historical moment simply because my name was chosen at random from a lottery of residents of the 12th congressional district of New York. Maybe this entire election has felt so momentous because it has made people feel that they could be a part of their own government again, simply because they are Americans.
I’ve felt a range of emotions since I found out that I was going to be able to attend the ceremonies: the obvious excitement, the disbelief that I was given the chance, the numbness of the DMV experience required to actually proved that I am a member of the 12th congressional district, the overly hot and overly cold bus out of Chinatown, the just plain cold weather, the half-pride, half-frustration with the push of the crowds that are only expected to get much, much worse. And, for what? No one is entirely sure. What the actual day of Obama’s swearing in will be like has been predicted from various angles.
Will it feel like the national emergency that it’s been declared? Or will it feel closer to Woodstock, or New Year’s Eve in Manhattan? Will it be an empowering experience that confirms the kind of change-centric administration we are promised, or will it mostly be an overwhelming display of memorabilia? Will it allow for an impressive display of grassroots fervor and real community connection? Will what over a million Americans experience first-hand be a kind of reflection of what the next four years will be like?
It has already felt a bit like a combination of all of this. There was a general buzz on the bus down among people of all ages, with discussions that included, “We’ve waited for so long, this is now our time,” and, “I think my Mom is becoming a Republican after this.” The first sign any of us saw as soon as we entered DC was a giant “OBAMA HEADQUARTERS” banner that definitely wasn’t the headquarters for anything other than shirts, mugs, flags, thimbles, and plates. Since then, I’ve also been offered Obama condoms, Obama chocolate, and Obama tattoos by sellers lining the streets in the Capital area. But, the nature of everyone: crowds, Metro employees, bus drivers, memorabilia hawkers, has been of general excitement and amusement at the sheer number of people that have come for this event and the inevitable commercialism that is involved. Even when my good friend Elliot and I waited for almost two hours on a line to get into the “We Are One” concert, only for our orderly, snaking line to crumble into a mass of enthusiastic people, we walked a few blocks down, gave a friendly wave to the anti-gay protesters, and joined the hundreds of thousands of people standing out in front of the JumboTrons around the Washington Monument. As everyone else had figured out, being close to the event wasn’t nearly as important as just being there, Obama hats, pins, flags, and all.
Some people have asked why being here is important to me at all, when I could just as easily be far away from crowds and cold, watching it all on television with the rest of the Ms. Foundation for Women staff (where I currently work as a Development Associate). The truth is, before I even found out that I had a ticket to the events, I was planning on coming to DC anyway, for several reasons. Besides wanting to be part of a very important historical moment, there is also the thrill of millions of people being gathered for the same reason and the mystery of what could possibly emerge from such a gathering. Additionally, as I pointed out to the shock of my parents, I have known a Bush administration for 1/3 of my 24-year-old life. Since I was 16, when I was first really putting together my own inkling of social justice interest, I have known a presidency of snap-reactions, fear, and a silence on some of the most important issues, disguised by a roar. As a young woman, it is so empowering to know that for the next four years, my President is a self-identifying pro-choice, feminist individual that is willing to tackle and name the issues of race, class, and gender. The prospect of all of this is exciting enough that I want to be here to celebrate and share.
As such, I’ll be waking up at 4am on Tuesday morning, moving along with the crowds, trying to stay warm. I’m not sure what to anticipate other than that. But, just as millions of people will be watching, talking, experiencing, and totally present for this event, so I think this should be a reflection for this entire administration. Now that we finally feel a part of it, whether or not you are here on Tuesday, we should actually be here: watching, talking, experiencing, and being present for all of it.
[Update: See Caitlin's second posting: Inauguration Ceremonies 2009: The Day Of and Braving the Icy Currents.]