January 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm (Life) (, , , , )

or, “You had a better view on TV, but I was AT history being made.”

My older brother, Jason, used to talk about being “in the situation.” The first time I remember this coming up was when we saw a jazz band play at a coffee shop. Jason was so excited to be in the situation. Over time I’ve kind of appropriated this philosophy into a way of experiencing life. Following that idea, when I was asked, “Do you want to go to D.C. for the inauguration?” by my producer, Hope, I probably answered “yes” in the same tone as “well, duh!”

Hope, Caity, and myself arrived in Vienna, VA at 10 PM, doing a sort of couchsurfing experiece, but at the home of people with whom we had a mutual friend. We went to bed at 11 PM and our alarms went off at 3 AM. Poor Hope only slept about 30 minutes during that time, I think. We took a pretty empty Metro train into the city where we still didn’t find many crowds.
………………………………..until 12th St.

When going to the inauguration, you have a choice of seeing the actual swearing in or going to the parade. You can’t do both. We opted for the parade, but for the life of me I can’t remember why. Looking back, I would chosen the swearing in followed by a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian.

On 12th St. we waited for them to open a gate. Once they did, we got in line further up 12th St. Once we got through there, we waited to get through security, then we waited to see the parade. See? When I describe it that way, you’d almost want to join our merry saunter, wouldn’t you? In reality, those lines took us from 5 AM until around 1 PM? (something like that) When I say “line” I really mean swelling, crushing crowd of people standing shoulder to shoulder, chest to back. Frequently we heard the Secret Service and Nat’l Guard yelling, “Stop pushing! You’re crushing the people at the front! Pass that kid to us before he gets crushed!” At one point I stood with someone’s hand on my butt for over 30 minutes. I say “someone” because I didn’t have enough room to turn around and see who it was. My knees ached from spending hours pushing back against the bodies trying to take me off my feet. I spent around 5 minutes on my tiptoes, not because I was trying to see anything, but because the people behind me had pushed so hard I had to raise up on my toes to give a little room.

You’re probably appalled at my story, but I was loving it. I wanted to be in the situation and this was exactly what I expected. I don’t know if I expected it to last as long as it did (the standing, that is), but I had never been part of a crowd that was so dense that if you fell, you may not get back up. I won’t lie, it was a bit disturbing, a bit scary once or twice, but so was skydiving from 15,000 feet (Fall, 2005).

It was cold. The wind made it worse. At times, the front of my thighs stung so badly I was worried about frostbite. There were times I couldn’t feel my toes or fingers. It was warmest sardined in the middle of 300 people, but can you really say you like that more than being able to move around? Toss up. My shoulders STILL ache from having them hunched up to my ears for 15 hours. Yeah, we were out there 15 hours.

All for what? To see a limo go by with our President’s wife on my side and our President on the other, waving. What did I see of President Obama? The back of his head as I looked past Michelle. The girls sat facing them, but they were too worn out by then to be waving or even smiling.

Was it worth all the crap?

I would do it again. Being in the situation for something so historical is something I’ll never forget. The actions of an African-American woman from San Diego could have summed up how I felt about it: she had been to the First Aid tent a couple times feeling faint and when she finally threw up, the paramedics strapped her to a gurney to take her to an ambulance. When she realized they were taking her out of the parade route gates, she refused. She told my group, “They were gonna take me out! I wasn’t gonna leave!”

Twice I was in so much pain from the cold, I actually did consider leaving the parade route before it began, but even as I thought these things, I knew I’d never do it and would hate myself if I did.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t just about the 1st African-American President*. This is about the (dare I use the word?) change that I hope (damn! he took them ALL!) to see in this country. Before Bush came along, I never talked politics. In fact, I had never voted until the second time he ran. No one had made me hate what was going on in the name of our country before, so I wasn’t interested. Bush made sure to change all that.

I wanted to be in D.C. in support of what I believe President Obama (you’d better freakin’ learn that word, spellcheck!) is going to bring to the position of President.

Was it also awesome to be part of a Major First for the USA? HELL YES! I’m not gonna lie and say it wasn’t totally amazing to be part of something that I can tell me children about (or Jason’s kids, given this rate). My entire life, I’ve seen blatant, ugly racism and unconscious racism. If you had told me even in high school that an African-American would become President in my lifetime, I am not sure I would have believed you. I do not believe that the ability for this country to elect such a man means we have solved the problem of racism, but I do believe it means huge strides have been made. There is still so much to do, but I hope and pray this is the catalyst to start those efforts.

So yeah, it was a physically painful, tiring way to spend 24 hours, but I will never forget what the day meant to me.

P.S.–It brought a big smile to my face that “Barack Obama” now redirects to President Obama on Wikipedia 🙂

*= recently someone said, “Well it’s not like he’s really African-American. His mother was white, so he’s only half black.” Hello! His father was ACTUALLY African! I’d say that trumps a lot of the “yeah, but…”s you might throw his way.

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Proud to be an American

November 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm (Life) (, , , )


photo courtesy of destination 360

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