I was on the mall in D.C. yesterday, in the frigid temperatures, in the packed crowds, with a five-year-old on my shoulders getting a glimpse of a historic moment. When I asked my daughter today what she thought about the inauguration, she said: "music, music, speaking, speaking, flags wave, yeah Obama!" And that about sums up what happened. But then, I also recall the men and women crying nearby, mostly African American, the laughter when the MC said, "now you may be seated" (we had been standing for about 2 or 3 hours by then and would continue to stand); the tidal wave of cheers when Obama first appeared on the giant TV screen; the boos at Cheney and Bush; and the loud, "yes!" and "you're right!" during Obama's inaugural remarks.
So yes, it was a historic occasion, unlike anything I can recall, having lived in DC for more than a decade now, and having come down here as a child to participate in very different kinds of gatherings on the mall - the peace demonstrations during the Vietnam War. This was far bigger, far more moving, far more inviting than anything I've seen and it literally turned our town upside down.
We live 2 blocks from the Capitol dome, our street the first one outside the security perimeter, which meant that buses were chugging down our block all Monday night. I woke up at 5 a.m. and looked out the window to see streams of people already heading down to the mall. We let the kids sleep in, so didn't forge out into the crowds until about 8:30 and by then it was like Time Square in NYC, but with the gridlock of packed crowds on many blocks. It took over an hour to get to a place I jog to in 10 minutes on any other day.
The air was also festive, people smiling at each other, saying hello to total strangers. I was humbled by the fact that I just had blocks to walk while others traveled all night to get here and in some cases didn't make it onto the mall. In fact, early on, we were locked out of the mall by police barriers, until by a stroke of good luck we passed by the gates of the Smithsonian Castle garden just as they were unlocked. A stream of people passed through and filled up the spaces on the mall. We were among them, rushing to witness the moment before it passed.
Then we stood, sipping hot cider we had brought, listening to the remarks all of you have now heard, cheering and feeling the emotion rip through the crowd as Obama took his oath of office. We could only see it on the Jumbotron, but it wasn't what you saw so much as what you felt. A sense really of being humbled by so many people feeling exactly the same thing no matter where they came from, no matter who they were. Even my 81 year old mother, watching it on TV back at my house, said she had never seen anything like it -- not even when JFK was inaugurated.
On Sunday we had also stood through the entire concert at the Lincoln Memorial, watched my peers in the crowd sing along with Garth Brooks on "Bye Bye Miss American Pie" (while younger folks looked on somewhat clueless), sang along again with Pete Seeger, his grandson and Bruce Springsteen on "This Land is Your Land," (my daughter joining in, having learned the words in school). We just wanted her to remember, to say years later that she was there, making history.
And so were we.
- Samuel Fromartz