The Inauguration of Barack Obama was the first presidential inauguration I ever attended. Without protesting. On our inaugural pilgrimage to DC our train from NYC was on the track behind then President-elect Barack Obama’s train making whistle stops from Philadelphia through Wilmington and Baltimore, so we were delayed by “presidential activities on the route” by three hours. The conductor said, “Complain to the White House,” and usually grumpy commuters laughed.
Already with the no-drama Obama!
We stayed in Adams Morgan with our gracious hosts, Nancy Polikoff and Cheryl Swannack. They had been studying inaugural road maps in the Washington Post for weeks and were our unerring GPS advisors. In addition to the thrill of the inauguration, the big DC topic was logistics - surface roads, alternate routes, estimated travel time, metro closings, car pooling, taxi hopping. Our hosts were so expert, I am confident they could handle the logistics of getting us out of Iraq.
On Sunday we attended the MCC DC church for a Martin Luther King Day concert with their Gospel Choir. Founded in 1992, the choir is composed of people of varied religious experiences who love to sing and share God’s love through song. And can they sing! Choir Director Shirli Hughes, in her selection of songs and soloists, completely captured the full circle joy of the life of Martin Luther King and the inauguration of Barack Obama. In their gorgeously simple church, Michele Lanchester ripped through We Shall Not Be Moved. After the service she agreed to sing it at our saging ceremony the next night at Dupont Circle. “If it’s not too cold,” she added. Her pipes are a gift, so I understood.
The brilliant community organizer Jose Rodriguez had the foresight to get a park permit for an inaugural week of actions in Dupont Circle. At one entrance he and his cohorts had installed a giant blowup of George Bush and provided shoes for people to toss. Shoe Bush was a huge cathartic hit. Jose let us use the stage for an hour and at 6 pm Dupont Circle began to fill. Park police estimated 2,000. We kept the crowd warm with some world dance music, playlisted by my in-house deejay and girlfriend.
At 6:15, we welcomed everyone to the saging and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, of NY’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, gave an invocation. PS - if HBO had filmed the saging, we would definitely have included the Rabbi. Then with hundreds of sage sticks smudging the dusky air, shaman Mamma Donna led us in the saging ritual. The wind was just right and carried all the smoke down to the White House. It was below freezing cold, but Michelle Lanchester’s pipes were hot and she lead us out with a rousing reprise of We Shall Not be Moved. Then my girl ramped up Sylvester doing “You make me feel mighty real” and the crowd danced until the police shut us down at exactly 7.
On President Obama’s first day in office, he announced he would suspend military trials at Guantanamo and order it’s closing. That’s some powerful saging mojo. Thanks to all our Sagers!
At our joyful spectacle, a friend gave us two purple section, standing room only tickets to the inauguration the next day. We spent the night with our logistics advisors and left early next morning for the Capitol. On the way, we heard that the Mall had been full for hours. I’m not a crowd girl, so when the purple security gates did not open and we were herded into a side street, I told my galpal who is five feet two, that we had to get out, get a taxi and get home. It was starting to feel like Altamont. I said, “Hot stuff coming through,” and pushed our way out. We had had our people experience and watched the ceremony with snacks, heat and no guilt.
When the offstage announcer stentored, please rise, we did. And hugging each other, we watched as Supreme Court Chief Justice cocky no-text John Roberts botched the oath for posterity’s footage. We agreed it was intentional, no matter how much we are not supposed to be doing that old Bush think any more. Rick Warren giving himself goose bumps, Cheney slumping in the wheelchair, the heli finally lifting George and Rove out of DC – okay, we were not so well-behaved. But we were very happy.
That night we attended the sold-out Peace Ball at the old Post Office Building near Union Station, produced by long time DC organizer and restaurateur Andy Shallal. We had to go through Tacoma Park and I think Richmond to get there. Andy’s café, Bus Boys and Poets, has been the DC hub of peace activism since the first invasion of Iraq so the gala was a joyful celebration for peace activists. Spoken word, speeches and rocking bands kept the party going until 2 am.
The next morning we took a 730 train back to NYC and made it in three hours. It was the quietest train ride I’ve ever been on. The only sound was light snoring and the rustling of newspapers as some of us pored over every picture, detail and fashion of the previous day. I love reading, hearing and saying, “President Barack Obama” and find myself fighting my disbelief that so far he is doing what he said he would do.
Black History Month has begun early this year.