Thursday, January 22, 2009

Skywriting for Obama on the National Mall

Cold and bright was the weather. Warm and celebratory was the mood. High over the National Mall were big circles skywritten before 11 a.m. Must be O’s for Obama! A cheer rose from the purposeful throng marching along 23rd Street to spill onto the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. Greeters were wearing inauguration-volunteer watch caps. They high-fived everyone, saying Welcome to the National Mall.

What a day! And that was only getting there.

Your blogger can’t enter that area without paying respects to fallen comrades from the 199th Infantry Brigade, their names inscribed among over 50,000 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so I walked the short distance over there, too choked up to speak to two young men who stood aside and let me page through the thick book of names. Ah, here are Lt. Harold W. Winget and SP4 Larry E. Smith, dead now 42 years but still mourned as wasted lives. When will we ever learn about mixing in civil wars?

The map of Washington is overfull of war memorials, and soon we’ll be looking for space for Iraq and Afghanistan. These are reminders of why we need ever-better leaders, and why so much hope is invested in Barack Obama. Can we find ways to disarm and charm the foes? Can we stem our own swagger? It would be great if we can make health care available for all and turn the economy around, but the issues of war and peace are vastly more important. This is how nations rise and fall before the lens of history.

Growing crowds rimmed the frozen Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, centered on big television screens. At the east end, still over a mile from the Inaugural event at the Capitol, three screens drew me and tens of thousands of others, and we settled down together, strangers and friends from our full American diversity, facing toward the Capitol and the Washington Monument and staring mostly quietly at the unfolding spectacle. Early arrivers had climbed up on stone pedestals of the World War II Memorial. A few sat on the cold ground. Everyone else stood and, when the speeches started, cheered and applauded without boisterousness.

Readers of this blog have seen the speech and already have their own ideas. I won’t go into that much but, instead, try to depict some of the surrounding and subsequent atmosphere.

THE CROWD: George W. Bush got a little booing when his name was called, but a man near me, black like the majority of this DC crowd, shushed the booing and said, “Let’s give him a hand.” “Yes, a hand on the way out,” someone agreed.

“I love Michelle,” a woman cried. “Oh, I love her so much.”

We noted right away when the Chief Justice, too vain to write it down, flubbed the oath of office. “What a dope,” I yelled.

A young man wore a powder-blue cape with Obama and the campaign Hope logo on it. A woman carried a framed poster of “SuperObama” in red/blue tights, and she had a pair of shoes around her neck labeled Bush. There were a lot of fur coats worn by majestic DC women, and when they moved sometimes they were in strings of 6-10 people holding the ends of each others’ scarves to keep together. A man carried a tall flagstaff with US and Canadian flags on it.

A surprising number of bikes had been brought to the Mall. After the ceremonies, when I had trudged 2 miles to the north, I saw lots of bikers huffing up Connecticut Avenue beyond Dupont Circle. One young woman with a light road bike stopped there and opted for the 42 bus, complaining that her feet were frozen -- not that she didn’t have strength to go on.

Yes, it was cold, but in the crowd the packed closeness kept the wind away. The temperature may have been below freezing, but it didn’t bite so bad -- until I started home, and the wind cut freely past the edges of the thermal Underarmor that made the day bearable.

Obama’s rhetoric, though fine, somehow lacked the perfect phrase. “Remaking America?” “New era of Responsibility?” Yes, OK, but the words didn’t keep me warm against the building wind. No doubt I wished for too much. In fact, all I had really wished for was to be present at a momentous occasion. It was what had drawn me to Denver so that I could be personally present at Obama’s acceptance of the nomination. This was something I had worked for. And now the thing to do was to get to work -- much too long after election day, I fear. Our sclerotic system of government must be streamlined to get rid of these almost three month between election and inauguration.

A big helicopter flew over as the crowd moved away when the poem and benediction were finished. Someone guessed wrongly that it was now Obama in the chopper. No, this was the last we’ll see of George W. Bush. That was a good thought.

NEXT? The day before the Inauguration was instructive. I attended a two-hour seminar sponsored by Alliance for Justice ( on the coming mission for activists under the Obama administration.

Panelist Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn, stressed a need to create a “sense of shared experience” and not through the mass media but through organizing work. “Hope spreads through human contact,” he said. He saw an opportunity now “to create really big change in a short time.” Conversely, he warned that this could be a dangerous time when demagoguery could rise “and the right wing is very good at this.” He named Rudy Giuliani as one who might be adept at raising law and order as a rally cry for the right.

Van Jones, another panelist and founding president of Green for All (, was emotional as he described the role of Martin Luther King, whose birthday it was, in setting in motion processes that led to Obama’s election. Jones said he took his mission now from the example set by Nelson Mandela after he was freed from prison in South Africa. This is not a time to dial back, but rather “now is the time to intensify the struggle,” Jones said.

The other side will be ready for a fight. On my 1,100-mile drive back to South Florida I kept the radio scanning to find the right-wing message. There was Rush playing some comedian’s song ripping off Simon and Garfunkle’s “I am a Rock” to have the “president” sing “I am Barack, I am the messiah.” Glenn Beck remixed the words of the Inaugural address to have Obama saying crap like “Today I say to you that … America’s decline is inevitable.” Ridicule seems to be the weapon of choice, childish as it is. Some listeners called in to complain, sending Rush into a fit of temper at one point after a loyal-listener caller advised him to quit acting like a little boy. Dennis “the human laugh track” Miller suffered a caller to assert that Obama was going to put us all in drab housing projects like East Germany without any tut-tut of objection. The guy was a former trainer of Iraqi military, and Miller, as usual, congratulated him for keeping Miller’s freedom safe.

And I heard the religious right vow to keep fighting, this on a broadcast of the AFR, American Family Radio (, where morning talk guy Matt Friedeman can probably be found in the archives saying that he’s ready to keep fighting.

Well, of course we can’t expect any of these people to give up their highly paid jobs on the side of money and guns, but one wonders if they listen at all to the bipartisan tone coming out of Barack Obama and the call to pull together to deal with trouble facing all of us. It seems not, at this point. Rush said he was worried that Obama’s order for more openness and less secrecy might make it easier to release information that would lead to prosecutions for torture. Funny, he sounded as if he’s in favor of torture.

Anyway, note how the FOI Act order is excerpted on Wired’s updated report.

FLORIDA DEMOCRATS: Monday afternoon the Florida Democrats in the U.S. House had a jammed reception in a truly grand venue, the Members’ Room of the Library of Congress. Wow. Lovely paneling and tapestries. And the Democrats! I got there rather far into the 2-4 p.m. event and soon had seen my member of the County Commission, Sally Heyman; my member of the State House, newly elected Richard Steinberg; U.S. Reps Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20) with her new relaxed hairstyle very nice and Ron Klein (FL-22); former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, who might be thinking of running for office again; state Committeeman Bret Berlin; Bob Goldstein of Democrats of South Dade club; Josh Berkowitz, campaigner and practicing lawyer in Miami Beach; Kenny Newman of soccer ref fame and also a member of the Dade DEC. No doubt many other prominent Dems were there, too, but my eyes could only take in so much.

OTHER FESTIVITIES: With great luck I contacted our Italian volunteer, Andrea Liberati, who was back briefly from Italy to observe the Inauguration and collect notes for the last chapter of his book on having helped Obama win the presidency. With his connection, I crashed a super reception sponsored by the Italian American Democratic Leadership Council. Great snacks and the red wine flowed like water. Two comedians kept the joint laughing, the first, whose name I never caught, said he was half Indian and half Japanese, “So I get my sushi at the 7-11.”

Later to the expensive-ticket party sponsored by DailyKos/Netroots Nation and others, where more good food and drink competed with loud music for attention. I had the pleasure of bumping into Tampa blogger Susan Smith and her husband Norwood, along with fun and interesting people from DC, California and all over. The shrinking mainstream media came up often in conversation, and I heard that the San Francisco Chronicle had not sent extra staff to cover the Inauguration, relying solely on the Washington bureau. Well, what else do we expect? Have they started to cover Washington from Bangalore?

P.S. In coming days I hope to solve some of the mystery of a new camera and be able to post more photos. Anyone able to deal with the Panasonic DMC-LX3 is encouraged to volunteer help.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was at the inauguration with all the great coverage on public television and the full coverage on the inauguation parade was really interesting - especially the guy twirling the baton for the LBGT band. And what was that group in kilts and playing the bagpipes? They were the official? band of the US Border Patrol? Do they get time on the clock to practice? Or are they used to scare away any potential illegal border crossers?
The inauguration balls were fun too. Both the president and the vice-president showed us men that anyone can pretend to dance. I, like that one caller-in late to ABC, was worried that staying up that late at night might impare the new president's judgment the first day in office. But he did fine.