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!