Elevate Difference

Letter from a Feminist After Attending the Inauguration

Washington, DC

Dear Feminist Review readers,

Having received the opportunity to attend the Inauguration of the first African American President, I did experience some nervousness. My companions in the motorcoach were virtual strangers to me. Except for the staff, most of the travelers were college students. Some had families; they had seen their own sons and daughters off to higher education and had finally chosen to pursue it themselves. Others were barely eighteen. The anticipation was palpable among us all regardless of our political affiliation. Today, we were not Republicans, Democrats, or Independents—simply Americans.

During the journey from New York to Maryland, we were separated into groups. I chose a window seat and marveled at the occasional sites of industry and commerce juxtaposed against the calm waters. Somewhere along Delaware, my seatmate fell asleep. I was left to my own devices with nearby speakers blaring The Bourne Identity. I listened to LibriVox recordings of James Joyce and Kate Chopin. In some time, I fell asleep too.

When we reached Maryland, I awakened and began writing this entry. It was still dark outside, and I could hardly read my writing. We stopped and had breakfast at a good ol' suburban Mickey D's.

The group and I then caught the Blue Line from Largo Town Center to L'Enfant Plaza in DC. Here, we encountered our first crowds. Throngs of people were trying to leave the metro station. The trip was especially hard on the children who accompanied their parents. Many felt claustrophobic in such close confines with the public. A few men and women fainted. In the hour it took us to leave the station, there were at least five calls for paramedics.

Honestly, it was a test for what was to come next. We walked to the National Mall Viewing Area. Hundreds and thousands joined us. We prepared for the long haul and waited for the formal Inaugural ceremony to begin. As the members of the House of Representatives and Senate were announced, people kept trickling in.

The former presidents and vice-presidents were introduced. Crowds cheered for the Clintons. However, it seemed as if the whole National Mall was bent on booing the departing Bush. One of the women next to me began to chant loudly: "Shah-nah-nah-nah, hey hey hey, goodbye." It caught on. I felt some sadness at the occurrence. I do not agree with some of Bush's policies; however, as a human being, I cannot feel some regret for so public a humiliation.

With much difficulty, I sneaked a pair of heat warmers into my gloves. The pushing-and-shoving of my own and others had separated me from my group. I could hardly shift my feet. I was leaning my arms on two middle-aged women in front of me. I literally hugged them. A woman to my side placed her head on my shoulder. At several times, the announcer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please be seated." We laughed; many of us had been standing since dawn!

I must admit it was a surreal moment of sisterhood. There were circles of girls and women with me. We all commented on Michelle Obama's choice of green gloves. The consensus was quite favorable. We would have linked arms, if it had been possible. We were comrades then. We did not need to know each other's names. We knew we were watching history unfold in front of our eyes.

When the then President-elect appeared on the viewing screens, the crowd cheered his name. Some felt relieved. Perhaps we could stand the next two hours of closeness. Dianne Feinstein made her opening remarks. When Rick Warren stood to deliver his Invocation, however, there was a collective dissatisfied murmur in the crowd.

For a moment, the sense of partisanship emerged into the setting until Warren began to speak. Reverently, he proclaimed: "Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all." He said, "When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us."

I saw a few tears escape from the eyes of people around me. Here we were, Black, White, and all other shades of the rainbow, sons and daughters of humanity together watching Barack Obama's Inauguration. The Christians among us recited "Our Father" with Warren before he left the stage.

Once Biden was sworn in, Itzhak Perlmen, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, and Gabriela Montero played a version of the "Simple Gifts." The performance did not compare to Aretha Franklin's stunning rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Perhaps the fact that John Williams' musical selection stood in between them and Oath of Office was why it received a poor reception from the crowd. When it ended, a man a few rows in front of me shouted: "Finally!"

We all noticed the flubs. A couple of young boys hooted when the President hesitated and the Honorable Chief Justice John Roberts repeated the Oath. Undoubtedly, we felt a sense of accomplishment when he finished reciting it. The crowd went wild. Flags were held high and waved proudly.

The inaugural address was quite sober. While there was great rhetoric in his speech, he did not succeed in truly rousing this crowd. They expected a speech of victory; instead, they received one of purpose. He chastised some Americans for their greed and irresponsibility. Though Obama duly noted the role of the free market in the economic crisis, his speech was not a post-partisan one.

If clear skies and somewhat tolerable weather had not greeted Americans at the National Mall, his speech would have resonated more than it did. He spoke of ominous storms and dark winter. He invoked George Washington who once said, "Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it." The people, most though sick with adoration and love for him, absorbed his message reluctantly.

At the conclusion of the address, the multitudes began to leave the Mall. I wanted to say goodbye to those who had surrounded me. But the time had passed. The conviviality returned briefly in the singing of the National Anthem, but concerns of the commute home riddled the former onlookers.

Washington was grossly unprepared for so many people. The metro was inadequate. They closed the system right after the Inauguration Ceremony. Hundreds stood in lines to get some semblance of food, use the bathroom, and receive shelter from the cold. People climbed on top of the port-a-potties to see everything.

Despite the inconvenience, everyone was in quite good humor. After we finally reached open ground near Independence Avenue, about a hundred people performed the electric slide. My companions and I walked a few blocks before reaching the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. For a few more hours, we stood on its steps. Boy, were we cold, but we spent the time analyzing sections of the addresses like true polemics. I wrote most of my journal entry there.

Luckily, a Starbucks was open near the metro station. My friend and I bought chai teas. I sipped it slowly, savoring the warmth. Eventually, we journeyed back to Maryland and to our tour bus. For dinner, we stopped at a Golden Corral. I promptly found the dessert counter and indulged in ice cream topped with hot fudge and marshmallows.

I made friends. We took countless pictures of us grinning and absorbing the process. The inauguration was a celebration of the American spirit. It was a privilege to share the moment with so many. All of us wondered to each other whether we would repeat the experience. Would we attend another Inauguration?

I believe I will return. One day, I will camp out to watch the first female President take the Oath of Office. Until then, I remain inspired, and cautiously hopeful for the country.

Written by: Anita Sonawane, January 22nd 2009

I got a much better sense of what the experience was like from your piece than I have from much of the news coverage I've seen. Thanks!

"Until then, I remain inspired, and cautiously hopeful for the country."My sentiments exactly.What a great entry. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!- Brianna Stallings

Thank you Anita for a wonderful description of the Inauguration. It really made me feel like I was there.