Inauguration 2009 was something like a scene of out Titanic... minus the impending tragedy (at least for those of my political persuasion.) The DC metro was packed to the point of maximum capacity, one passenger/reveler even fell into the tracks. Hoards of people rushed in chaos down the streets of the nation's only major city to self-impose a dawrfing rule on building heights and local "entreprenuers" sold t-shirts and buttons commemorating the event. The National Mall was filled from the steps of the Capitol building all the way beyond the Washington Monument and as the audience choked on frigid air, we waited for glimpses of important people on giant jumbotrons. Despite difficulty viewing the event, whether at the front or back (anyone remember Purple Ticketgate?) it felt important and special to be at the inauguration of our nation's first black President, and our first potential to move apart from the Bush years. Salvation seemed to come in the form of Aretha Franklin's hat, and the energy of the day was hopeful and excited. Albeit frostbitten.
In many ways, Inauguration 2013 was similar, but with some distinct differences. As a US history teacher/Obama supporter/Leslie Knope wannabe I felt as though it was my civic duty to attend Inauguration 2013 - afterall, Obama was counting on me to be there, or something, and I had a free place to stay, so it only seemed right I attend. Equipped with my iPhone to take some very important and historical Instagram photos of the event (get it??? it's historical because it looks like parchment!), I trekked to the mall with my boyfriend and two cousins, ready to be a special part of history with my 700,000 closest friends. Unlike my last trip there in 2009, we arrived at the mall around 9:15 and made it around halfway up the mall without being nearly crushed to death, giving us a clear shot of the Captiol and direct access to a jumbotron. Our walk from the Farragut North Metro Station was lined with some of the finest Adobe Photoshop t-shirts I have ever seen, ranging from pictures of an imaginary meeting between Obama + MLK Jr, to something which I am pretty sure was just a collage of the first 20 google image search results of "Barack Obama." I was discouraged by company from purchasing either.
Jumbotrons showed Important People entering the sitting area before the event actually begin - the crowd went wild at images of Jay-Z and Beyonce, but immediately fell into a confused silence when those images were followed by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, who in my opinion, are totally the Jay-Z and Beyonce of international elections and humanitarian shelter building efforts. By the end of the entrances and when the ceremony itself actually began, the energy of the crowd was filled with positivity and excitement, and it really did feel special to be a part of the experience. Volunteers handed out what must have been thousands of American flags, which people ripped at as though they meat scraps thrown to a pack of starved dogs (don't think for a second I'm excluding myself from this) but there was something hackneyed and amazing about watching this event framed by the stars and stripes.
The highlight of the whole event, for me, was of course the President's speech. With a sharp focus on domestic policy, and little discussion compromise, it seems fair to hope that the next four years hold the potential for truly progressive legislation to become more of a centerpiece of the Obama presidency. By alluding to Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, aside from making a lovely example of alliteration for English teachers and history teachers alike, the President honed in on three major events in US history that were risky, radical, and worked to expand the rights of those who suffered at the hands of institutionalized oppression. While many are fairly critical of the President's slow "evolution" into support for marriage equality or lack of gusto behind other initiatives, it seems possible, especially as he no longer faces the pressure of re-election, that the hope and change many felt they were denied in the first four years, could come around this time.
Ultimately, Inauguration 2013 left me with a sense of pride for the way this country has been able to successfuly practice democracy, but also hungry and eager for the amount of work we have left to do. It felt appropriate that the event itself was held on Martin Luther King Jr. day, a holiday we use to celebrate the legacy of a man who through leadership and articulation challenged the nation to think beyond where the majority felt comfortable, but there's a part of that legacy we often leave out. In MLK Jr's later years, he fought for real initiatives to help end poverty in the United States, explaining that this would be the only real way to end civil, social, racial and gender inequality, founding things like the Poor People's campaign. These kinds of real progressive policies should be the ones we're continuting to strive for as a nation, and while I'm proud of what the president has accomplished in the first four years of his presidency, we should push him to take heed to MLK's pressure about the "fierce urgency of now." Being a part of group of hundreds of thousands of people joining together to happily celebrate a historic moment was both invigorating and challenging in the sense that it became clear how far we still have to go. Maya Angelou once wrote that "All great achievements require time" and whether were thinking on a micro-level for the next four years and the potential it may hold for real changes, or a macro-level in the grand scheme of our own history, it's important to be both critical of the lenghts and things that we need to do as a nation, but happy with the extent to which we've already grown.
PS - One last thing of course, but how good did the Obama family look?