Today was very nearly disastrous--for me, at least. I'd come down to D.C. to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, to spend it with my fellow Americans, and to see if I could find the patriotic bone in my skinny, brown body.At 11:14 am, 16 minutes before "change" was about to take place, I, along with five friends, was stuck in a stairwell in the Smithsonian's Museum of African Art. We were packed tightly. We were told the National Mall was full by security. We didn't care. We were determined to get on. There was a hyper-contagious bug infecting everyone in the nation's capital this morning: hope.
"We will not miss the inauguration," Teresa Taylor assured me. She had come all the way from Pensacola, Florida, but at that moment was sharing a step with me in the museum. "This is the most important moment in my life besides having children." Well, it's kind of fitting that we'll be trapped in the African art museum while Obama is being sworn in, I shoot back. "I didn't even know what it was," she replies, laughing. "The guy over there just told me."Moments later, as the clock neared 11:30, we saw daylight and broke for the Mall. Standing by the Smithsonian Institute's hallowed red brick building, I got to be a part of history. People around me cheered, waved flags, hugged, cried, snapped pictures, bowed their heads, and soaked everything in. It was like New Year's crossed with a commencement or a revival.While all attention was focused on one man, the real beauty of the moment was that we got to share it with each other-friends, neighbors, strangers, countrymen, etc."To me, the hordes are the best part of it-I personally believe that you only get change if you have mass numbers of people coming together," Albert Bridgewater, a resident of nearby West Falls Church, Virginia, told me. " I grew up in a segregated United States and to see so many people, so many races and ethnicities coming together to welcome this man who once would not have been able to go into a restaurant in this town and get served is truly an amazing transformation for the United States."
Earlier in the week, I met with Kevin Griffis, a former coworker of mine who spent the last year or two as a spokesman on Obama's campaign. Among his accomplishments was the organization of several pro-Obama rallies in Ohio featuring the Arcade Fire. "I don't think we had time to reflect on the enormity of what's happening," he said, referring to the post-election feeling in the Obama camp. "We all feel really fortunate to work with someone who can connect with so many people, which hasn't happened in generations."Obama forged connections with an amazingly large percentage of Americans. In doing so, however, he created an army of believers who can hold him and his administration accountable. And, really, is there anything more patriotic a person can do than that?