Students visit Washington, experience inauguration

January 23, 2009

<i>PHOTO BY Annie Chiorazzi</i>

PHOTO BY Annie Chiorazzi

The t-shirts being sold at the Obama Inaugural Celebration concert on the Washington D.C. mall summed up our reasons for being there.

The shirts read things like: “historic moment,” “first black President,” “my future starts now,” and “back in the house that we [i.e. African American slaves] built.” The images on them ranged from simple presidential seals, to Obama’s face superimposed on the Declaration of Independence, to magazine covers of the president-elect and his now celebrity family.

We wanted to be there for all of it.

So on Saturday morning, I, and five fellow-Brandeisians hoped on a bus to New York City, and then one to Washington D.C. so that we could see the celebrity, watch the Democrats retake the supreme office of the land, and witness a black man being sworn into the White House.

We kicked off our four-day weekend in the nation’s capitol by going to the Obama Inaugural Celebration concert on the national mall.

Arriving at the mall four hours before the concert started at 2 p.m. allowed us ample time to survey our fellow attendees.

Over 300,000 people were there with us—some climbing on trees or port-a-potties to get a view of the entertainment. They represented all races, and all ages, but most surprising was the number of 30-somethings with their elementary school children.

Next to us were two women, one Hispanic and one black, with five children. The children, ages ranging from about five to ten, —though excited about seeing Beyonce Knowles sing America the Beautiful—were extraordinarily aware of the history that they were witnessing.

They knew Vice President Elect Joe Biden when he walked down the stairs of the Lincoln Monument, and every time President-Elect Obama’s face flickered on one of the many jumbo-trons broadcasting the concert to the crowed, they cheered, and attempted to whistle with their fingers.

Behind us, a toddler sat on her father’s shoulders with a wash-off tattoo of Obama’s face on each cheek.

The concert’s organizers had clearly anticipated the crowd’s extreme youth. The concert was kicked off by Elmo and “the Number One” leading a cheer of “we are one”—the concert’s theme.

Even though Elmo’s act might be hard to top, the performances got better and better from there.

A 90-year old Pete Seger led the crowd—which expanded from the steps of the Lincoln Monument past the Washington Monument—in a call and response of “This Land is Your Land;” and Garth Brooks led us in what must have broken a Guinness record for the most people to perform the “Shout” dance at a time.

Some might say that such a star-studded celebration of the Presidency is unnecessary, superfluous or even gaudy.

But being on the mall surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people was worth braving the cold and the hassle.

The children who surrounded us were having their first political experience—one that will mold them as citizens for the rest of their lives. And when Barack Obama is sworn in as the first African American President on Tuesday, he will be standing on steps laid down by African American slaves.

Watching Obama speak at the Lincoln Monument—a place that history has designated for Americans to unite for causes against injustice—the day before Martin Luther King day put it all in perspective.

Obama, as the first Black President, has become a celebrity.

But, as John Mellencamp sang to us from that monument, “Ain’t that America?”

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