Thursday, January 22, 2009

Musings from the Mall

Rather than come home directly from the Board meeting, I flew to Washington, DC to attend the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States with 2 million of my closest friends. We left the home of my Bethesda friend shortly after 5 am, drove to park at another friend’s house by the bus route that would take us to within a couple of miles of the Mall, picked up more friends, then walked the rest, arriving about 7:30. Eight of us staked out our postage stamp-sized spots with silver space blankets, and waited for the ceremonies to begin at 10, which we would watch on one of the many “jumbotrons” spread across the Mall, culminating with the peaceful transition of the governance of the United States at noon. This photo is the (standing for 7 hours) view of the Capitol where the inauguration actually took place. The Mall was already full when this was taken, about 8:30.

Bless the planners – starting at 8 the jumbotrons rebroadcast the “We Are One” concert held Sunday night. The crowd was into it, clapping, jumping, dancing (what a great way to stay warm in 23 degrees!) – especially when the songs were the “oldies” most of us knew the words to. The crowd was diverse in every respect, with everyone talking to everyone else, sharing handwarmers, trailmix, coffee from thermoses, and information gleaned from text messages (a lot of cell phones were not working by then). This view is sitting down, which is why everyone is standing.

It was clearly a partisan crowd. When Bush appeared you heard loud boos (rather disrespectful and less clever than the chant started by a group near the actual stage at the front: “na na na na, na na na na, na na na na, good bye”). When Obama appeared, it was an exuberant swell of hope and joy, many people crying when he finally took the oath.

It was a great occasion to feel part of, and was worth the early up, miles of walking, and 7 hours of standing. Two things disturbed me though: all the trash left by those of us on the Mall (didn’t we just have a day of service on Monday?). My friends and I filled our three trash bags to the brim and carted them to the dumpsters, watching others just throwing things on the ground.

The other was the chants of “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!”.

I would have felt a lot better had we been chanting “Yes, we can! Yes, we can!” I fully recognize the power this charismatic leader has in turning around the apathy, lassitude, and despair so prevalent in America today. But from the beginning we appear to be elevating him to a sort of demi-god stardom far too much in line with our celebrity obsession. Better that we hear and respond to his message of empowerment and working together so that when we lose him (please hear my prayers that it is after 8 years) we can still do the work that needs to be done.

Next post: Independent Affiliates Revisited (Again)

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