Friday, January 23, 2009

Kathy & Mary Go To D.C.!

We left Providence on the bus about 10:30 on Monday night, bumped and rattled all the way down route 95 all night long, through New York, New Jersey, through the dusting snow, beneath a misty crescent moon. Our knees were mashed against the narrow backs of the seats in front of us, but we got as comfortable as we could with blankets and pillows and ear plugs, drank a toast with two tiny bottles of cognac, and tried to sleep.

By dawn we arrived at Green Belt, Maryland, the last stop on the green metro line, and our first glimpse of the hordes to come. They crowded the front of the metro station in every direction, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds deep, in long coats, scarves and hats and mittens, parkas and hoods, carrying their children, talking on phones, lifting cameras above their heads to capture the scene. They were young and old, black and white, patient and glad, chatty, and willing to wait.

It was almost two hours before we boarded the train, and nearly another hour to reach a stop close to the Mall. Riding along, we found that the folks around us -- a young brother and sister from North Carolina, two black women in long fur coats, a middle-aged couple sitting behind them -- all of them had been in D.C. when we last were here, six years ago, for the march against the war, January 2003, when we froze and marched in vain. Today we all were glad to be back in the city to celebrate, to witness, to affirm the choice of hope over fear.

When we left the train, we were finally in D.C.! The day was bright but overcast, cold and a bit damp but not biting. It was great to be back out on those historic streets, to me it seemed dreamlike in a way -- it was 20 years ago that I lived there on Kalorama Road, and the vistas in every direction seemed familiar, but only vaguely, a glimpse into memory.

The streets all were closed to traffic and teeming with people -- along the sidewalks, in the streets, thousands and thousands, all a bit lost and unsure where to go, but we just kept moving, hoping to get there. Pennsylvania Avenue was closed off for the parade, the checkpoints there were gridlocked, so we marched to the West for about a mile and a half to get beyond the White House, then cut south to the Mall. A helicopter hovered above us, a few cars crept past, but mainly it was just the people, moving, moving, marching along, calm and cold. Hawkers along the sidewalks cried out, selling buttons, posters, hot drinks and street food, hand warmers and scarves, a dollar, five dollars, two for ten!

Finally we arrive at the Mall, close by the Tidal Basin, the pond is half-covered in ice, teeming with flocks of seagulls, the endless crowds working their way down from the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool, toward the East. By now it's almost 11 a.m., and the ceremony is at 11:30, so we figure this is about as close as we can get. For a moment we glimpse the Capitol in the distance, about a mile away, but then we head for the big Jumbotron at the foot of the Washington Monument, and it's there that we find a spot amid the crowd.

The overcast skies now are streaked with blue, the flags are flying in the wind, the people fill the Mall far behind us and as far as we can see to the East. The crowds around us push closer, standing on tiptoe, to see the screen above us, straining to hear as the words are whipped away in the wind, a father lifts a child to his shoulder, an exhausted young woman spreads a newspaper on the cold ground and lies down to rest.

Then the ceremony begins, we see W on the screen and Boos!! ring out, the crowd chants, Na-na-na-na, hey-hey, Good-bye! Less with disdain than with pure relief to see the end of his regime. When Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or Michelle appear, the crowd cheers! When Obama takes the oath, when he is now the President, a wave of cheers from east to west, from north to south, from the crowd at the foot of the Monument, across the Mall, then a sigh, a collective release of the anger, the despair, the misery of the last eight years.

When President Obama says, Now, we will put away childish things.... Now, we will choose hope over fear.... Now, we will extend the hand of friendship.... Now, we will not sacrifice our ideals to our ambition... we know that a new chapter has begun, in the history of our country and our world.

Around us, the crowd is attentive, responsive, but somewhat subdued, it is not the deafening, roaring, intensity of emotion that we had somewhat expected, not the pure joy of Election Night, when we saw the release of all that tension and uncertainty, this is a quieter, more subdued response, from a crowd that is ready to get to work, to make the change, to re-join the world, to build the community of the future.

And that was it, the crowd dispersed, a tall black man with tears in his eyes shared a smile with me as we passed on by, we wandered off, shopped for souveneirs, found a warm place to eat and drink and rest, made our way back to the bus, and slept all the way home.

Kathy's video:

Waiting for the bus, at the Convention Center downtown.

TV crews saw us off in Providence, you can see us on Channel 6.

The metro train was crowded to capacity!

A map of the Mall, we were just to the South and a little East of the Ellipse.... about a mile from the Capitol!

Crowds on the Mall.

The Washington Monument towering above us, the White House just to our North, made clear we were in DC!

Heading home on the bus, tired but happy.

Kathy shot video and should have a short feature up on YouTube in a few days!