Guest Column: I Saw the President

University of Delaware graduate student and Elk Landing board member Eric attended the inaguration on Jan 20.  He has written a guest column on this historic day for Someone Noticed.

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by Eric Mease

One man was from Ethiopia, another from Indiana.  Two women behind us were from West Africa.  One small group of people broke into a chorus of “We Shall Overcome”.  One man, perched atop a road impediment took pictures using the cameras of those below.  Another man said “thank you God.  Thank you God in heaven.”

It was cold in Washington D.C. on January 20th.  It was also very crowded.  My person was kept warm by no fewer than 6 layers of clothing; my head by a woolen ski cap and hooded sweat shirt, and my fingers by hand warmers tucked inside gloves.  As for my feet… I’m not sure they were there because I could not feel them. 

 

The crowds were humungous, patient, cooperative, and friendly.  There could have been, but there was no pushing or shoving… no swearing or screaming.  For a few moments, that cold winter day, those there present, were, to employ an overly used term, family.  Why?  because a new President was being inaugurated.  But this was no typical inauguration.  Oh the usual trappings of power were there: flags… lots of flags, red white and blue bunting, every reporter known to humankind, bands, 20,000 police officers and at least 10,000 members of our armed forces, a parade, and too many parties to count.  What wasn’t typical was the man being inaugurated, and the crowd that came to hear and maybe see him.  Barak Obama capped 390 years of oppression of one race by another in this country.  His swearing in also forever destroyed a barrier that kept people of color from attaining the highest office in the land, that of chief magistrate.  

 

As we all know, the U.S. Presidency is more than just power, it’s a national symbol.  The person who holds that job represents all 300 million of us to the world.  Now, finally, that symbol is an African American.  A man who more closely represents what we are, a mixed heritage, and that’s important.

 

 Then there was the crowd which held a unique connection with their president, for these two shared a bond that reached beyond the miles many of them traveled to be there and well beyond their social station or skin color.  It was a connection that brought hope.  Hope for a better day: a better economy, better international relations, and better selves. 

 

Perhaps the one and only time the crowd quieted was when Barack Obama raised his right hand, put his left hand on Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible, and took the oath of office.  One did not have to have a big screen TV or pocket radio to know when it was complete.  The roar of the crowd confirmed the act.

 

Then there was the speech followed by a great lull.  I couldn’t hear the speech live, so I won’t comment on it, although I did read it and listen to it post partum.  It was after the speech that we realized just how cold we were. There was nothing to do except talk to each other, talk to the police guarding the crowd line from various states, and think.  I thought about the previous presidents who have governed during my life time: Ike, Jack, LBJ, Tricky Dickey, Gerry, Jimmy, Ronald Reagan, Bush 41, Bill, and “W”.  None of their inaugurals even came close to what occurred on the west front of the U.S. Capital this week… not even close. 

 

The people who stood around me for hours that cold January day “got it”, to use another overly used term.  They got it and they displayed it when they didn’t push and shove, when they didn’t scream or swear, when they did take pictures for their neighbors, and when they shared their thoughts on that historic occasion. 

 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot… I saw the President.  He came by us at a snail’s pace, traveling in his new limousine, enveloped in the ever present Secret Service cocoon. As there was no one on the opposite side of the street, we held his full attention as he and his wife, Michelle, waved and smiled at the Inaugural Parade’s genesis.  It wasn’t the first time I had seen Mr. Obama in person.  I caught a fleeting glimpse of him when he held a Wilmington campaign rally nearly one year ago.  But now he was the President of the United States… all of the United States.  And that family that greeted his family and welcomed him as our symbol, will need to stay together to make this President’s administration successful.  That does not mean always agreeing with each other, just listening, conversing, and working together.  For, paraphrasing President Lincoln, President Obama reminded us that in our hands, more than his, rests the future of our nation.  And if he isn’t successful, a lot more than a single administration will fail. 

 

I noted that Tuesday was a historic occasion.  It was, for a variety of reasons, not just because an African American was succeeding to the American Presidency.  It was also historic because it united one man from Ethiopia, another from Indiana, two women behind us from West Africa, one small group of people who broke into a chorus of “We Shall Overcome”, one man, perched atop a road impediment who took pictures using the cameras of those below, and another man who prayed “thank you God.  Thank you God in heaven.”  We were united to an event, to a cause, and to a nation in a way that shows we can, indeed, overcome.

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