I believe in Obama. So I wanted to be part of his story. Our story.
So last Saturday, I flew from London to Washington, D.C. to spend four days celebrating and witnessing the inauguration of our 44th President.
I made my way down to the Sunday concert featuring actors and musicians. The music part was great with opening performances from The Boss and Mary J. Blige. They did what they do best: sing.
But when Steve Carell stood up and gave a short political speech with no intentions of making me laugh I became suspicious. And by the time Tom Hanks opined on Abraham Lincoln’s contributions to politics as the camera held a soft-touched image of him staring out toward the Washington Monument, I was annoyed. Allen Ginsberg whined in my ear, America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set. America is this correct? Is it true our nation is so struck by stars?
Singers should sing. Actors should act–and not as if they know something about politics. As my friend put it, “That was the worst movie Tom Hanks ever made.”
So I walked off the Mall and went to the National Portrait Gallery where there was a Lincoln special exhibit, which was infinitely more inspiring than anything Tom Hanks had to say about him. I quickly regained my enthusiasm, even for celebrities, several of whom made appearances the following night during Ariana Huffington’s superb party at the Newseum. Sting gave an excellent performance.
All of this was preparation for Tuesday–when the nation’s collective efforts would fully materialize. Bright and early, I rode the metro to the Mall with thousands of others like a jellybean in a jar.
Despite the masses, the immobility, the squeeze, the cheer was implacable. I couldn’t even get worked up over the number of fur coats I saw (an uptight woman began bellyaching about my [nearly empty] coffee cup’s illicit appearance on the metro but my good spirits would not desist).
And then it was time to face the above ground mob. I could not have imagined what two million people would feel like. This was an exploration of the limits of mental stability and I kept repeating one of Martin Luther King’s most moving lines to keep calm: This will be a great America. We will be the participants in making it so.
I participated. I relinquished all sense of being an individual to become just one in a two million strong swarm of pride and support–and very good behavior. The mood was more cooperative and patient than I have ever felt before in America. As I stood mid-Mall and watched Obama take his oath and give his inaugural address (in which he used the words “data” and “statistics”!), tears traveled down many faces.
I made my way home amidst the organized chaos, thinking to myself that the District of Columbia had done a spectacular job and, moreover, marveling at the sight of so many Americans so well behaved. Which is perhaps why I thought the event almost seemed somehow un-American.
In some ways, it was what I imagine it is like being Dutch.
Despite that very slight crisis of identity, I went to bed Tuesday night as everyone who was on the Mall must have: tired and happy.
On Wednesday afternoon, still in awe (and a little uncertain) of the cooperative America I had seen the previous day, I hailed a cab to Dulles airport. The driver was keen to discuss the inaugural fervor. He did not see the inauguration because he had to work selling cars. He said he didn’t mind who won the election as long as it was a Democrat. “The Republicans drove this economy into the ground,” he said. “Somebody should go to prison. I don’t know who–but somebody.” He was glad because he had sold a 1996 Nissan Altima despite the event.
The he turned and caught a glimpse at a display in one of the many shops that line the streets of Georgetown and said, “Hey, that’s a nice jacket. It’s made for a faggot. But, still. It’s a nice jacket.”
Phew. A sign. America was still America.
Tuesday night, I would have said the inauguration could best be summarized by mating Dick Cheney’s appearance in a wheelchair with Yo-Yo Ma’s blithe cello performance.
But, looking back on it, I choose instead a moment in the Metro station. The station manager was keeping order by shouting–happily–over the intercom: Keep-It-Mov-Ing. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. As we shuffled courteously off the platform and globbed up the escalator toward daylight, we shouted the phrase back to her in unison. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. Keep-It-Mov-Ing. There was joy. Triumph. Hope. And a single voice. Of a people. For a nation.
All photos courtesy of Jason Ensler and his very beloved iPhone.