“End of an error–and the beginning of an era!” shouted Washingtonian resident and student Imani Johnson as Barack Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible and was sworn in as America’s 44th president just after noon on Jan.20, 2009.
“I need to hug SOMEBODY!” bellowed a tall gentleman in a hunter’s hat, and did so with an equally exuberant fellow spectator. Millions of people, wearing the winter catalog of every department store in the country, turned their eyes to the Capitol or the numerous Jumbotrons along the National Mall, and cheered as loudly when Obama first appeared as they booed when cameras flashed George Bush on the big screen.
In a scene reminiscent of Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus,” a film about a group of men’s journey to the 1995 Million Man March, wrapped up tight against the freezing January evening chill, 108 men, women and children boarded a bus parked outside Sista’s Place in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, on Monday evening. The civil rights group the December 12th Movement had called together a number of people who often attended their various political and cultural forums to take another historic trip to Washington.
“I wanted to observe Black history in the making and be part of it,” said Trinidadian Diane Cooper. “I wanted to experience the moment and interact with the crowd and see how they responded to what Barack Obama was saying.”
With bated breath, a shivering audience of millions listened intently to just sworn- in President Obama’s words, interjecting with raucous applause and shouts of approval intermittently. “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” the brand-new president said. And the crowd, they roared.
Detailing the economic crisis, governmental and personal responsibility on a variety of levels, Obama addressed his multiple constituencies, and touched on global problems of war, poverty, political favoritism and the need for worlwide cooperation. The resolution, he said, begins at home.
“This is the journey we continue today,” he said. “Our capacity remains undiminished…Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.” “Preach, papa!” a lady shouted.
“That’s MY president,” a man responded!
Soon after cheering on a military helicopter as it took ex-president George Bush and his family away to Texas, exhausted but exhilarated travelers who had been up since before dawn made their way to the parade or home. “It was good,” said Adrian, 21, from San Antonio, Texas.
“This was my first time voting, and I did it because it was time for a change. President Obama has inspired me to go get a job, because I wasn’t going to. Now I am, “the young man, in town with his parents, told the AmNews.
“This was wonderful, he was wonderful,” said proud Kenyan Lydia Nyagah. In from California to honor her countryman, she predicted, “He’s going to do a good job. He’s going to involve everybody. He is a child of the world.”
Yonni Johnson, 32, Jamesha Kirby, 30, and Mellissa Davis, 30, all from Atlanta, gushed together. “President Obama is abso-itively, posi-lutely, fabutabulously the epitome of awesomeness.
“We have been Obamafied!” they giggled.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. could learn a thing or two from the instant and efficient coordination New York’s first responders and harbor folk displayed when flight 1549 made a crash landing on the Hudson last week! What a rigmarole it was trying to get off the Mall and to the next destination. National Guardsman, regular police, MP and all manner of law enforcement with their barriers galore tested the patience of the most easygoing individual.
Curiously too, the minute Obama stopped speaking, the high energy seemed to subside. A subdued mood seemed to overtake the crowd as they shuffled peacefully onto the next leg of their historic trip. The subway was closed, streets were blocked, and police and greeters turned misdirection into an art form. Yet and still, despite the biting cold, moods remained upbeat. “This is Happy New President Day,” a man in a wheelchair declared. “The New Year starts here!” “Why is everyone so quiet? What happened to the mood?” a young lady asked no one in particular.
“We’ve been on a high for months, and now the real work begins,” another young girl answered, “Plus, we all got up at 3 a.m.” People laughed and then fell quiet again. Everyone was in good spirits though, and it seemed like folk were determined to keep calm despite the inevitable pushing and shoving. The “sorrys” and the “excuse mes” seemed to be all the antidote necessary.
“New York coming through,” members of the 100-plus December 12th group shouted light-heartedly as they eased their way through the millions. “Brooklyn’s in the house!” Vendors from Harlem to Queens and no doubt boroughs from every other U.S. state crowded the sidewalks of D.C. “Obama said he was gonna create jobs, didn’t know he meant so soon, but here it is,” joked a middle-aged man, as he dodged vendors left and right offering T-shirts, hats, posters, calendars and food. But from the sublime to the ridiculous, some bright spark was selling an Obama puppet and another was hawking Obama condoms.
Back on the bus, the Gotham-bound travelers shared the mutual understanding that had settled on them as they gathered at Sista’s Place 24 hours prior. There was pride and jubilation, but there is work to be done by everyone.
Brooklynite Afro, 49, is an ex-Army man who made the trip. “I wanted to come to be a part of the crowd and the atmosphere,” he told the AmNews. “I was proud of his accomplishment and happy to see his wife and daughters up there with him. We respect the status, but we wait to see his actions when it comes to policies like Africa and political prisoners.”
Shaeed Muhammad said Obama’s speech was typical in essence “of his whole campaign with white folks and Africans flag-waving together and cheering when he made certain points. Today, we saw the visible hope that he speaks to and King spoke about. Don’t know how long that dream is going to exist though. When conditions get tough, people revert to what they are used to and that white skin privilege means that Black and Latino people will be left out of doors.”
“The inauguration was great for Black people,” said attorney Roger Wareham, co- organizer of the trip and member of the December 12th Movement. “It represents an opening for us to push for through and talk about our issues that would radically improve the quality of our lives, issues like single payee healthcare. We must fulfill the task that Barack has put before us in making him accountable.”
“Today was a good learning experience. Obama was himself. He didn’t try and act like he was someone else,” said Isiah, 14, who made the trip with his mom from Brooklyn. It’s my first inauguration, but I’d go again if there was a president who can handle himself like Obama.”
The young man’s mother, Deborah Nelson, told the AmNews, “I brought Isiah because Obama is the first African-American president. Our grandparents were not able to see this. My mother is 86 years old, and she didn’t ever have a thought that this was possible. Isiah can have that thought. I saw Mayor Dinkins, so I knew some things were possible, but now we see that a Black man can go into the White House–that was built by enslaved Africans–how great is that? But we have to help Obama. He has to clean up a lot of stuff left by the Bushes and by the Clintons. He can’t do it by himself. We have to do our part.”