The Day Washington Got Mesmerized …
By Anila Ali
Above: The mammoth crowd at the historic inauguration ceremony. Below: Author Anila Ali
It was as if it were a pilgrimage - people had traveled miles to see the messiah of hope - the man who gave Americans reassurance that they could still dream and that they could still be optimistic.
Nearly 44 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Americans can take a bow as a nation at electing the first African-American, Barack Hussein Obama, as President.
The president’s elderly step-grandmother had brought him an oxtail flywhisk, a sign of power in Kenya. The First Lady’s cousins had come in from North Carolina where their great-great grandfather was born into slavery and a rabbi had come from a synagogue. President Obama’s Indonesian American half-sister Maya Soetoro and her Chinese-Canadian husband, Konrad, and her brother, an African American with a Caucasian wife were also present. This colorful American quilt is the new American first family.
For centuries the United States has been more diverse than the ruling family has been. Now the ruling family is black, white, Asian, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. A t-shirt being sold by an African American read “Mission Accomplished.” Americans can be proud of this mission as accomplished but let this not be the last cast that is broken. Let this be the beginning of a new era, a new America, reinvigorated and revived.
It was a morning that began with so much passion and presage - jaws dropped, Dow-dropped and barriers dropped but no one stopped. The President felt daunted looking at the enormous crowds that had gathered to witness history as their hope-besotted faces radiated and they waved flags and chanted, “Yes we can….” even he must have felt the huge burden being placed on his shoulders.
And so the President tempered the crowds’ optimism with his serious speech recounting the crippled state of the US economy. In this time of national crisis, Americans looked to their new government to solve the problems that directly affect them. President Obama promised them of this rare kind of leadership, that will recast the political landscape, if he must, he will rewrite the social contract and redefine what it means to be a citizen. This is how he would pump energy and patriotism back into the people.
This President, a master orator, with a natural flair for bringing people together, has the youth mobilized and ready to serve. As he declared from the steps of the Capitol:
“Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests, and putting off unpleasant decisions- that time has surely passed.”
The America that was so racially divided right until President Obama won the American Electorate in November 2008, stood so very united and defied those divisions. People of all races and religions had come miles to witness this great moment. In his twenty-minute speech, President Obama was able to give the American people lucidity and respect, which they have longed for in the past eight years. As Mr. Bush looked on, President Obama swept away eight years of Presidents’ false choices and failed policies. President Obama declared: “On this day we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”
An estimated two million people witnessed the wearing-in ceremony. Families, consisting of three generations of African Americans had traveled from states like Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky and braved the chilling temperatures of Washington D.C. Younger generation pushed the wheelchairs of the oldest generations, young ones were clutched in the arms of their mothers and the two millions strong Americans herded like one big family. The patience and concern being shown for each other was particularly heart warming. No tempers raged and no intolerance was visible was seen even after waiting for hours for a train ride home.
A family had driven for days from San Diego, California to witness this historic moment.
“How could we miss this historic day! We want to tell our kids and grandkids about it!”
This is the day that Nelson Mandela Called President Obama, “the voice of hope for the world”. “This is a new chapter in American history and the world’s history,” said British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
For many, it was the culmination of the great American story, of the ascent of power of the first African American President but also the entrance of a politician, who was turned away from the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles about eight years ago as a senator from Illinois because of a lack of name recognition.
President Obama ‘s inauguration drew crowds as far as the eyes could see. The streets and avenues between Capitol Hill and Lincoln Memorial were a gigantic party scene. In the biting cold and chilling winds, people waved flags at the president’s words of wisdom and his hope for a better world. Emotions ran high as Obama called on Americans to make sacrifices and people’s eyes brimmed with tears of joy as President Obama asked God to “help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to commitment to freedom and justices for all.”
On this day, America stood mesmerized.