Peter Eveleth was kind enough to drive us to the station on the morning of our departure. We found a place to park our stuff, and I ran out to take some photos of Union Station. Our train departed without incident and we made great time. The earnest college students from Amherst were on the same train with us! (But not the Dominican sex workers!). On the ride back, people were either sleeping, reading Barack Obama’s books, or talking excitedly on their cell phones about the inauguration experience. I tried to read the book I’d brought about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, but was too distracted with thoughts about the inauguration and the future, which seemed so bright. (Okay, cynics, I know!)
We pulled into sleepy little White River Junction at about 6:45pm. Edward scraped the snow and ice off the windows and we headed north on lonely, beautiful interstate 91.
We celebrated at home in Guildhall with pasta and wine.
I wasn’t particularly anticipating Obama’s inaugural speech. The important thing was to see Bush-Cheney leave and see Obama take the oath. So when the speech came, Obama could have recited a nursery rhyme and I would have still been in a swoon-like state of delight. But I did listen to it, and here are some of my thoughts:
1) I never thought that a U.S. President would actually acknowledge my existence and speak respectfully to non-believers. Pretty amazing, and pretty impressive. This almost–but not quite–made up for Rick Warren’s reading of the Lord’s Prayer, which I believe has absolutely no place in a civil swearing in. (Ed turned his back on Rick Warren)
2) O’s speech emphatically denounced and rejected the policies of Bush-Cheney in no uncertain terms, and that made me happy. Although Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s New York Times bemoaned the speech’s lack of boldness and specifics (rightfully so, in some respects), virtually everyone has noted that for an inaugural speech, it was almost unprecedented in roundly breaking with the past. (A bunch of Bush advisors are actually whining about it now, claiming that Obama was too harsh on Bush and should have been more gracious. Please. Grow up.)
3) I wish Obama had been more specific and sweeping about his plans for health care. As it was, he simply said that health care was too expensive, which doesn’t begin to describe the depth of the problem.
4) I thought Obama’s call for a new era of personal responsibility was vague, and sounded a little too much like the Republicans, who say that all the time. If by personal responsibiity, Obama means that we have to stay politically engaged and keep his feet to the fire (which we do), then I couldn’t agree more. But if he means something else–well, I’m sorry, but for the last 8 years, very few of us have even had all the information we need to challenge the worst of the Bush policies. We were lied to, remember?
5) Obama says the challenges are real and many. It’s a little thing, but I like that. The Republicans would just gloss over it and say things aren’t that bad.
6) Obama wants to restore science to its rightful place: hallelujah!
7) We reject the idea that we must choose between our safety and our ideals: can’t get much better than that!
8) Power alone cannot protect us. It does not entitle us to do as we please. Be prudent. Good. Good.
9) A tad too much bellicosity in the speech, maybe to placate the hawks. Oh well.
As noted, I didn’t really care what he said. But actually, there were quite a few good, even surprisingly good things in the speech–along with some vague and annoying blather. A mixed bag, weak in some places, strong in others. It just underscores to me how Obama needs us to keep pushing him. It was the same with FDR.
Whatever Obama’s weaknesses, with him there is hope; with Bush, Cheney or McCain, there was none, none, none.
We begin the inauguration march, prepared to defend Obama against any last minute tricks by the nefarious Bush-Cheney duo. Edward sports his old SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) button that he wore at the 1963 March on Washington. Throughout the day, people noticed this button and commented enthusiastically upon it; many had questions for him!
We had silver tickets, and we dutifully followed the signs pointing us to the silver area. The crowds thickened. I started to wonder why we didn’t see any cops, except for one in a vehicle who tried to plow his way through the crowd. We ended up at this spot, so crowded that at times, I couldn’t even lift my hands to snap photos. It was the most claustrophobic scenario I’ve ever experienced in my life. What made it tolerable was how happy everyone was, and how well-behaved. Also, we had thought ahead and packed our clothes with juice, granola bars, fruit, and cookies. That helped. We stood in this exact same spot for almost two hours.
We were being held back by some sort of officials. It was frustrating, because we could see, less than 50 feet away, some very tempting open space. It didn’t make sense to any of us why we were being held back, but we were obedient. FInally, someone on a bullhorn told us we were about to be released, and that we should be prepared to show our tickets and go through security. Ah yes, security. We had been told in advance that we would be frisked, ID’d and possibly go through metal detectors. But when we were released, there was not a single law enforcement person to be found. Nothing. No one. Everyone sprinted toward the Capitol. We collectively knocked down fences and barriers, flattening them. No one there to ask for tickets or to clear us in any way shape or form, just delightful chaos. Actually, I was a bit worried when the running started. It seemed like a recipe for disaster. But this was such a happy crowd that no one got hurt. People hopped up onto the portapotties, onto poles, and climbed into trees. The spot where we ended up was quite comfortable compared to the previous one. You could actually take a couple of steps in either direction and move your arms. This was where we stood when the magical moment came.
We weren’t that close, and it was hard even to see the jumbotron, but we could hear perfectly well. I cried my eyes out in the moments after he was sworn in. A lot of other people were crying, too.
We went to a fancy labor reception at the St Regis Hotel tonight. I used to work as a union organizer for HERE and ACTWU and Edward was an executive vice president of UNITE! before he semi-retired, so it was fun to see and commiserate with old friends and comrades. Put me in mind of the days, weeks, months that I spent on union campaigns in various parts of the country, trudging house to house, dragging myself out for dawn picket lines, living out of hotel rooms. I had some very interesting conversations with people about the bill pending in Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act; the Act makes it easier for employees to organize unions without the intimidating anti-union onslaughts that employers rain down on them prior to secret ballot elections. More important, the Act would also make it a lot harder for employers to stonewall negotiating first contracts. I snapped a nice photo of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and we managed to chat every so briefly about organizing…
Mark and Edgar gave us tickets to the inauguration!
We were happy about that; little did we (and almost everyone else!) know that inauguration tickets in the crowd of almost 2 million would prove practically meaningless. But we were glad to have them anyway, at the time!
The woman with the flag approached us where we were eating lunch at the National Gallery Sculpture Garden Cafe. She wanted us to randomly pick cards with the name of warring countries on them, hold them up, and kiss with the flag draped behind us. It seemed like a pretty goofy idea, but how could we say no??
When we got past the Washington Monument, we encountered a video crew who had set up a modest operation in which they recruited passers-by to read aloud on video from this book, Goodbye Bush. They plan to put it up on Youtube. Cool.
I was determined to see the Lincoln Memorial close up, since at the concert the day before, I hadn’t been able to get any closer than the far end of the reflecting pool. I was disappointed today that I still couldn’t get onto the steps, because they had the area roped off while cleaning up after the concert. I zoomed in as far as I could, straining over the barrier, and if you look closely, you can see the beautiful Lincoln statue by Daniel Chester French– a surreal, haunting image.
We walked the length of the Vietnam Memorial. I noticed that a hush fell over the crowd. It’s a beautiful memorial, far more beautiful than any of the pictures I’ve seen suggest.
After the Vt reception, we scouted around for a bar, and ended up at Eileen’s old haunt (she used to bartend there!). It was an amazing experience! The place was packed with interesting people, and the crowd was Obama-raucous. Every time that a new customer(s) walked in the door, the crowd went wild, clapping, jumping up and down, and chanting O-BA-MA at the top of their lungs. Eileen introduced us to the men in the photo above, who were all extraordinarily intelligent, politically sophisticated, articulate and witty. I had been dragging a bit when we walked into this place, but between the crowd and these men, I perked up, interested. Later, I snapped a photo of this unnamed woman (because she was so cute), and then she came over to chat with us. Turns out she’s from Salt Lake City and she was here for the inauguration. She told us that she’d “worked my butt off going door-to-door in the worse neighborhoods in Salt Lake City for this guy (Obama), so he better not fuck it up.” (By worse neighborhoods, she meant the rock-ribbed Mormon areas). Her story of having worked hard to get Obama elected was a theme that was repeated time and time again during our visit. So many people I met talked about what they’d done to campaign for him. I thought alot throughout the inauguration trip about how so many people, most of him I didn’t even get a chance to talk to, had worked their asses off, in one form or another, to elect Obama (and unelect McCain-Bush, of course!)
The Vermont State Society Reception was a pleasant affair. I kissed Bernie Sanders on the cheek and whispered “good job” and left it at that after snapping a picture. Howard Dean gave one of his well-intentioned but easy-to-tune out speeches. And Patrick Leahy kept reminding us to go up on top of the building and check out the view. Finally, we took the elevator up, clutching our drinks. I wasn’t going to go out, because of the cold, but then Eileen told me I HAD to. She has lived in DC for much of her adult life, and she came back in raving that neither she or I would ever see DC like this again. So I had to go out after all, and indeed it was spectacular. The Capitol dome was aglow, and Eileen said it was especially lit up for this occasion.
We got fairly close to the swearing in dais, wanting a good view and some pictures before the inauguration itself. There were tons of people who had the same idea, and there was an almost sacred silence as people snapped photos and stared.
Then, we went to the Supreme Court, a place that I hold in awe. Someday, maybe, just maybe…
We worked our way down the National Mall, after stops at the Capitol and the Supreme Court. As we got closer, the crowds grew thicker, and happier. The entrepreneurship was incredible. There were Obama tee-shirts, hats, calendars, posters, scaarves, buttons, bookmarks, even earrings. I wondered: what must Obama think of all this hawking? We circled around the Washington Monument, and I recalled how many times I’ve been to DC for demonstrations. I demonstrated during the Reagan/Bush era (at a tender young age), yes, the Clinton era, and of course, the Bush 2 era. In fact, to demonstrate against something is the ONLY reason I have ever been to DC. It’s about time I came for something positive!
We wanted to get as close as possible to the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, but didn’t want to sit there for hours trapped inside the checkpoints, cold and without food, so we decided to backtrack a bit and find a restaurant. Edward, with his usual instincts for fine cuisine, found us a nice French cafe and we had lunch while several self-important Washington lawyers pow-wowed at the table next to us.
Back at the concert site, we sang the national anthem, and listened to some great musicians, particularly Springsteen. As I watched him belting it out, with a gospel choir backing him up, I practically cried, thinking of how tirelessly he had campaigned for Obama. Most of the musicians were great, especially Mary K. Blige and the inimitable, inspiring Pete Seeger, who led a mass rendition of This Land Is Your Land. (I didn’t really care for the parade of actor celebrities). Even more interesting were the people in the crowd surrounding us, so full of exuberance. Note the elegantly dressed women in the photos. I could tell from just looking at them that they weren’t the type who would ordinarily come to concerts or demonstrations or mass events. But this was different! They were crying!
Here’s where we stayed in Washington, DC, home of Peter Eveleth. The house is 9 blocks from the Capitol, and it proved to be the coziest, most comfortable, accommodations I could have imagined. On the night we arrived, tired and worn out from a long train trip, a fire blazed in the hearth, and Peter immediately made us drinks. We’re so lucky to have met him! He’s smart, witty, has great politics and a big, generous spirit. Many thanks to Peter and to Eileen for introducing us to him!