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The end of an improbable road, and the beginning of a historic tenure

January 21, 2009

Washington D.C. – If Barack Obama’s rise to become the 44th President of the United States was meant to prove that “a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth,” as the President himself notably pronounced in his victory speech of November 4th, the crowd gathered in Washington D.C. for his inauguration was a testimony to just how much the American people have come to believe in his promise.

In front of an emotional crowd of excited spectators – estimated in well over a million people — President Obama took his oath of office Tuesday, on the steps of the Capitol, laying his left hand on the same bible that Abraham Lincoln – the man who pushed for the abolitiObama supporters try to catch a memento of inaugurationon of slavery – used in 1861. Leaders of the House and the Senate sat behind him, alongside the new President’s family, former President George W. Bush with Mrs. Laura Bush, and a variety of celebrities of different ilk. Aretha Franklin sang, Yo-Yo Ma the famed cellist performed, and the Reverend Rick Warren gave a heartfelt invocation. President Obama avoided soaring rhetoric and chose a somber tone for his inaugural address, dedicated to calling the nation to serve and “to begin again the work of remaking America.”

The ceremony was not dissimilar to inaugurations past, but instead the day was made special by the presence of citizens of all ages and race, who had traveled to Washington D.C. from all over the country. They laughed, they cried, they waved tiny American flags in the air, and they braved many discomforts to seize their own piece of history as the first African-American president was sworn into office.

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> In below-freezing temperatures, throngs of people took to the street from the wee hours of the morning. They struggled to get on the first overcrowded metro at 4am, walked or biked for hours before the sunrise, and then slowly made their way to the perimeter of the National Mall, where a public viewing area had been set up. There, they often discovered thousands more already waiting, standing in lines that zigzagged around whole city blocks. Nobody would be allowed on to the grounds of the Mall until much later and people had to stand for hours simply trying not to push and hoping not to be overtaken. The logistics of the day proved ineffective, and organizers appeared unprepared for such an immense number of people.
And yet, despite the hardship endured and the frustration felt, the pilgrims of Tuesday’s secular rite remained calm and in good spirits, acting responsibly and patiently, for the most part. Everyone seemed to be willing to accept the fact that, in a million-plus audience, getting even just a glimpse of one of the (few) jumbotrons broadcasting the ceremony across the Mall was an exceptional endeavor.

“It was absolutely worth it,” said Ernest Smith after President Obama had concluded his address. With his wife Mary-AnA couple of Obama supportersn he had flown to D.C. from Los Angeles to attend the inauguration. “There is this great sense of hope, the attitude of the American people has changed,” he declared.

Bobby Moore, a social worker who had traveled all the way from Madison, Wisconsin, had spent the night at a friend’s in Maryland and had embarked upon his trip to the Mall at 5am. “Initially I didn’t want to come, but my wife insisted that it was history and that we had to be here,” said Moore before leaving the Mall. The experience, he admitted, was entirely worth it: “Seeing all these different Americans together, everybody seemed nicer with each other. Blacks are being nicer to whites and whites are being nicer to blacks, it is incredible.”

With their presence, the hundreds of thousands of people that filled the National Mall echoed the words of President Obama and gave them poignant resonance, especially when he proclaimed: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” This marked the highest point yet of the special dialogue Barack Obama has crafted with the American people since the beginning of his campaign. Over the next four years, President Obama will be faced with many difficult challenges (which he elucidated at the start of his 20-minute speech). As he confronts them, he will be held responsible, probably to a higher degree than any of his predecessors, for listening and responding directly to the will of the American people. After all, they have wholeheartedly entrusted him with an overwhelming mandate to shape a new style of politics and to lead America out of its current crises.

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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