Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Blog: Change Of An Era

Leaving the place I stayed on the morning of Inauguration was surreal for this Houstonian. Gaithersburg looked like it had suffered a powdered-sugar explosion. Everything was covered in a generous dose of white, with homes and their Christmas Tree pruned junipers or pines looking like holiday card scenes. In a word, the cold was biting!

Clearly everyone appeared in an excited mood. I rode down with a group of folks from Chicago: Theo the fireman and Anthony and Francis Davis who live four blocks from where Obama used to reside in Hyde Park. We discussed numerous things: They had questions on how many could get in on one ticket (it was one per ticket per the instructions I had), they showed me their invitation packet which was better than mine – containing a program, to keepsake printed photos on stock paper with signatures of both the new Prez and Vice Prez, and also where we needed to go to get out entry to our viewing section.

“My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors…. Every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms…. That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.” — President Barack Obama on his Inaugural Speech.

That last subject proved to be a task! On our invitations, we were instructed to exit the Metro off of the Blue or Orange line on the south side of the Mall. As we were coming in from the northwest on the Red line, it meant a switch at Metro Center. Upon exit at Metro Center, we were turned away from the Blue and Orange embarking areas for unknown reason, and instructed to go one stop further to Judiciary Square, exit on the north side, and walk through a tunnel to the far side south of the Mall. It was a healthy hike, and clearly some of the folks in cane and hobbling with limps were having a tough time of it.

Especially considering the sudden change in pedestrian traffic flow from the Metro, there was no signage indicating direction and far too few (and obviously overwhelmed) foot cops or guides to ask for direction.

The coordination of the crowd and traffic control seemed, at best, unusual if not downright unfully hatched. Having the supposedly “closed” street in front of the only gate areas for Inaugural viewing repetitively blocked while police cars and transporting police riot squad horse trailers and officers seemed unnecessary and strangely timed immediately before the event’s commencement. Another oddity was having squad cars, buses or chauffeured vehicles traveling down streets blocked off for pedestrians who were already shoulder-to-shoulder on their way to the entrance gates. Other points where the crowds were held back to wait for clearing of the lines across the street, or even restricting pedestrian traffic in the cross streets, was done only piecemeal on an arbitrary manner. Some of these decisions made no real sense.

The introductions seemed to take quite some time, but then, I’m a newbie at this inaugural stuff! Nevertheless the crowd warmed up with the Carters and Clintons took the stage. Everyone was cordial throughout all introductions until the Cheneys and George & Laura Bush were introduced. It was most especially loud when W hit the stage, when a number of us flipped off our now ex-President, then spontaneously broke into a unanimous rendition of “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!”

“I just flipped off President George!
I'm going to Disneyland!” — Dizz Knee Land, Dada

During the performance by Yitzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma, a group of seagulls and pigeons flew in synch with the music, creating tempo patterns that caused many in the crowd to comment on the seemingly purposeful air dance they did to the string composition.

Clearly the crowd erupted when the Bidens and the Obamas were introduced. And all the fashion-watchers took note of the gorgeous golden dress ensemble that the First Lady Michelle Obama wore. She was, as always, tastefully dressed. Most of the presentation went without a hitch, with one exception – Chief Justice John Roberts apparently screwed up the oath when administering it to our newest President! Pres. Obama uttered the first word, smiled and hesitated … and the Chief Justice repeated the oath again, correctly this time! Imagine the braying from the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world if it would’ve been a liberal Justice screwing up an oath for their hero, George W. Bush!

There was also one other minor screw-up when it was noted that power has changed hands in the U.S. forty-four times. In actuality, it was forty-three – the first one was not inheriting it from any predecessor, thus no “transfer” of power.

Our 44th President gave another excellent speech. It wasn’t his greatest, but very much up to the high standards he himself has set for this office – and a very welcomed change from his predecessor. There is something about this president that leaves everyone with a sense of confidence that our country is now in firm, frank and conscientious command. We now have a national figurehead who will claim responsibility as opposed to the finger-pointing dodgers of the past eight years.

“Part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and remind people this is the people's house." — President-Elect Barack Obama in a Dec. 7, 2008 interview on Meet the Press

Despite my leaving slightly early, the nearest Metro stop south of the Capitol Mall was apparently closed due to over-capacity crowds. As a result, a crowd of what seemed near ten thousand waited for well over an hour with no real movement toward the subway entrance. One woman ended up passing out due to diabetic shock, and just trying to get an ambulance down that street (which was a sea of shoulder-to-shoulder people) was a chore!

As a result, many folks (along with me) gave up on Metro and decided to go to the Rayburn House Office Building to warm up. Getting out of that sea of humanity at the Metro proved to be the toughest trick and took close to half an hour to make it half a block! Nevertheless, I did finally push through and made it to the House – to wait in another line for screening! After another colder half hour wait (there was no wall-to-wall body heat in that line), I finally made it in to warm up. Numerous committee offices were holding receptions, so I dropped in on a couple. I never could tell who was sponsoring them, but it didn’t seem to be closed or restricted to anyone!

After a couple cups of coffee and loads of cheese and crackers (my first meal of the day!) I went to the one Open House I’d confirmed for: Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York. He’s one of the Transgender community’s staunchest allies in the House, and was the most vocal in berating Rep. Barney Frank and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for their ditching of “gender identity or expression” in 2007’s Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Rep. Weiner was one of seven courageous House members who voted against ENDA – not because of their being prejudiced conservatives, but because of the principle of leaving some of us excluded from “equality.” As a result, all seven of those members ruined their perfect 100% score on human rights from the very same “Human Rights” Campaign (and all seven were re-elected despite HRC’s punitive bigotry). I got a chance to give the Rep a huge Texas hug, and thank him for his defiant support for us – and managed to grab a quick photo too! Anyone out in far eastern Queens or Brooklyn around the JFK area needs to get involved and help this guy on any of his efforts or campaigns – he’s a lion for our community!

On the way home I sat next to a woman who I believe was lesbian (I didn’t ask). It turns out she was from Atlanta but had coincidentally come to Houston to work the primaries for the Obama Campaign. The reason she came to us instead of Ohio was that she wanted to work a primary state that had a caucus. Ironically enough, it wasn’t until this year that I learned that what Texas did to elect a third of our delegates was a caucus (we just called them precinct conventions and I presumed every state had them!) We chatted a bit about her experiences in Houston (apparently in State Rep Cohen’s district in the West U / Med Center area), and I related mine from Dayton, O-H … I-O. (Yes, I still remember … and thanks to Mark Foster for teaching our Houston bus that!)

“They come from the cities and they come from the smaller towns ….
Well, they said goodbye to their families, said goodbye to their friends,
With their pipedreams in their heads and very little money in their hands.
Some are black and some are white, ain't too proud to sleep on your floor tonight.” — R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A., John Cougar Mellencamp

Unlike many of the others, I ended up home at a decent hour. In this economy, there’s no way I could afford any inaugural balls. Sure, they probably would have been nice with the glitz and glamour. And I’m sure they were also important parts of what will likely be cherished memories of the entire weekend. But for me, beyond the affordability, it seemed a bit too ostentatious for me to justify. We’re inheriting the Bush economy and will be in the throes of this for some time, with plenty of economic pain to go around for the majority of the country – and also the globe. We must learn to stop spending money on things, and mine starts with that. So I feel very pleased I’ve managed this overly long weekend on a relative shoestring, thanks to deflated gasoline prices and the help of good friends!

President Barack Obama has set history of global magnitude just in his election alone. He also gives every indication he will continue this high standard in his acts.

Ultimately, working the campaigns, attending the convention, blockwalking in Houston and in Ohio and now attending the inauguration, this was actively being a part of history instead of watching from the sidelines. It’s part of how history is made and how change occurs: physically involving yourself even in the small, seemingly inconsequential things that collectively, when added all together, create this singular event in our lifetime. It’s a memory we’ll be able to relive throughout our entire lives, and maybe passed for generations to come.

It’s also an inspiration to those of us whose hopes and dreams died years ago, that maybe by working hard and persevering, we can finally see a day when success is no longer the sole property of the opportunistically connected or the entitled class. It seemed all but impossible on paper, but “Yes We Can” became “Yes We Did.” While I don’t have hope, maybe I can make change nevertheless!

For those of us who worked this entire effort and participated in this, we’ll always share being a small piece of history, and helping begin this process of change. We’ve truly helped create change. We’ve truly helped begin a new era in America and the world.

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.… We remain a young nation. But in the words of scripture the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward our precious gift: that noble idea passed on from generation to generation, that God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” — President Barack Obama on his Inaugural Speech.

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