At the inauguration, solidarity and joy, even standing in line

I’m in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama (doesn’t that feel nice to say?), and like about a million other people I spent the day shuffling through crowds in 34 degree weather. It was slow going, with lines for eveything — to get into museums, to get on the metro, to get a cup off coffee.

But the atmosphere was like a love-in. People were smiling at each other, talking to strangers (no one was a stranger, in fact), expressing their happiness about the moment. Strolling around the frozen pond before the statue of General Grant and the Capitol Building — where the inauguration will take place tomorrow — there was a solidarity in the air.

I guess that’s why standing in line for three hours for inauguration tickets at Nancy Pelosi’s office was bearable — even enjoyable. It was all part of the experience. All the legislative office buildings had lines stretching for a block and a half, and Cannon House was no exception. But my dad and I spent the whole time getting to know our neighbors.

There was the family from Columbia, South Carolina who had made their travel arrangements even before the election (“I knew he was going to win,” the mother told us). There was a mom and her two year-old daughter — who endured the ordeal with barely a complaint — who came from the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles. There was the community organizer from Tampa, Florida who brought his whole family. There was a real-life neighbor, too — an old man from the Bay Area who had lived in the Hunters Point projects in the 1940s after serving in the Navy. He later became a Teamster — a van driver — and owns two houses in the Bayview, though he now calls Daly City home. He was an older African-American with a thick Southern accent (he was originally from Georgia), and I especially marveled at what this day must mean for him. Standing in line with white people and black people and Latino people and Asian people — all the people Obama mentioned in his pre-inauguration address on Sunday — on the holiday celebrating MLK’s birthday, to welcome a black person to the highest office in the country.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around what it must mean for an individual who has seen the things that this older black man’s eyes have seen. But that meaning is ours as Americans, and we should pay close attention to it. Because for all that an Obama presidency can or cannot be — and for any worries we may have about high expectations — the fact of a black president necessarily marks a tectonic shift in American history.

Standing in line for three hours also turned out to be exhausting. I wanted to hit up one of the many Kenyan parties in the DC area — especially one where the star Nameless is performing — but it turns out I’m too tired to move get up off the couch. Plus, I have to rest up for tomorrow. (Yeah, I got tickets!)

The Bush years are over, thank God. Tomorrow we welcome something unprecedented and, we hope, beautiful.

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