On the morning of Tuesday, January 20, I accompanied two members of President Obama’s Transition Committee to the Inauguration Ceremony. Needless to say, we were all ecstatically looking forward to participating in this historic event. In our worst dreams, however, we could not foresee what would really happen. We had purple tickets.
As we were approaching the corner of D and 1st Streets on our way to the proclaimed gate, we encountered a large crowd of people. There were no signs or officials directing us where to go.
After merging with the crowd, it turned out that we were stuck there with no way of moving forward or backward. Some people in front who acted as if they were in charge but had no clear authority shouted periodically that if we, the crowd of thousands of people, do not rearrange ourselves into a single person line, we would not be allowed to move forward to the gate. If the crowd would have been able to do so, the line would have extended beyond the White house. Obviously, this did not happen.
Police or other emergency cars came by to the end of the large crowd and activated their loud sirens without a clear purpose. Then ambulances made their way through the crowd pushing people aside as if this street was the only available route in DC. Some people called their friends who were a block away near the gate or got Twitter messages that the gate to the purple space of the Inauguration was closed for some unknown reason. After 2.5 hours of waiting in the freezing cold (with no bathrooms), the crowd pushed through to Constitution Ave., a block closer to the gate.
We found another huge crowd facing the fence with no gate in sight. The crowd periodically shouted in unison: “Open the gate” “Let us in”, or “Let my people in”. Nothing happened, except being squeezed and pushed by “peer pressure”. I was ready to quit. But one of my companions “insisted” that we examine the other side of the large crowd. After pushing our way out, we came to the opposite side and were told by some in the crowd that the gate was on this side. We incorporated ourselves into this part of the crowd and slowly, slowly were approaching the promised gate. As we approached the gate, the human tunnel became a human funnel- the pressure got more and more intensely suffocating until we were literally ejected into the door-sized gate. We felt like we were born again!!
After going through this 3.5-hour ordeal, we arrived inside just 3 minutes before President Obama gave his acceptance speech. At that time, however, it was hard to get a space with a view of the ceremony. On top of that, it was impossible to understand the sound of the spoken words that came through the faulty sound system.
The good side of the whole experience was that we were surrounded by a spirited and celebrating crowd. People came there with their whole families literally from all across the nation. I realized that in spite of what amounted to physical torture that morning, this experience was not just about seeing or hearing the ceremony- we could always watch the event later on TV or on the Internet. This was about BEING at this historic event as it happened TOGETHER with many thousands of our fellow citizens of all colors and from all walks of life. What a day! We wouldn’t have missed it!