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Inauguration ’09 – THE DAY IT HAPPENED

January 20th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

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Two million people–actually more, I’m sure of it—
were in it together.

On Tuesday morning, my friend and I took the Metro part way to the National Mall but, by Dupont Circle, we decided it was best to get out and walk.

The walk had its own extraordinary nature. For block after block on each of the streets that radiate out from the mall, hundreds of thousands of people strode together with steady optimism. This went on for hours, I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever. Not even close.

There was also the New Best Friend factor. It seemed that everyone one met Tuesday morning—on the metro ride, on the long walk to the mall, on the mall itself—was automatically a friend, a temporary family member, a companero.

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The crowd’s delirious cheer was also part gasp when the new President-to-be finally became visible on the JumboTrons and began his walk into history, his expression at once dignified, emotional, fully-conscious of the moment.

As for Barack’s inaugural speech, some thoughts:

More than any other president within memory, Barack Obama has a deep understanding of the power of words to inspire, motivate and heal. As I’ve mentioned here with boring frequency, prior to being in DC, I spent the last ten days in the company of two hundred writers at Bennington College. And, among writers, there is the strong feeling that, “Hey, this guy’s one of us.” In other words, Barack is not just an exceptionally smart man and an avid reader, he is a writer.

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So as I listened to the sobering and moving content of Obama’s speech from my cold windy perch near the Washington monument, amid a sea of expectant humanity, I found myself noting things like his word choices.

I noticed, for example, how often the man used nice, strong, active verbs, just the way we hector our writing students to do.

He told troublesome world leaders that America will “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” And “…know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

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He talked about a “firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke.”

I also noted the symphonic structure of Obama’s speech, with repeating refrains and well-orchestrated rises and falls in emphasis and intensity. To pick one example:

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.”

The word patterns are poetic….new…new…old …true. As the speech moves along, the ideas build on one another until they acquire the rhythmic heft of a church hymn, full of major chords.

Although Obama’s speeches tend toward the elegiac, he’s also terrifically skillful at finding phrases that will draw people in and make us, as listeners, feel that we are all a part of something.

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It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

This is the kind of rhetoric he will need if he is to get us working together to make the changes this country needs so badly.

(Here are some other writers’ takes on the speech via Susan Salter Reynolds.)

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By the way, all the poets with whom I spoke were thrilled by Obama’s choice of Elizabeth Alexander to write a poem for the inauguration. Sadly, however—but perhaps understandibly, given the windchill—on the national mall, the crowd began dispersing the minute Obama’s speech was over. They failed to wait for Ms. Alexander’s lovely poem. I could only assume that nobody standing near to me was a writer. Writers would never have left before the poet, windchill be damned.

This morning, Wednesday, the real work begins—and the challenges, as we all know, are well beyond daunting. But for one very cold Tuesday in January, it was pretty much all joy.

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Posted in Elections '08, Inauguration '09, Obama, Presidential race | 43 Comments »

43 Responses

  1. Rebel Girl Says:

    Thanks for the writer’s perspective. Stay warm.

  2. reg Says:

    I loved this:

    http://www.beautifulhorizons.net/weblog/2009/01/rev-joseph-lowery-delivers-the-inaugural-benediction.html

    That third stanza of James Weldon Johnson’s beautiful “Lift Every Voice aka Negro National Anthem” was a brilliant opening to Lowery’s prayer, and the paraphrase from the old Bill Broonzy blues was both poignant and humorous.

    I’ll also stick my neck out and suggest that Rick Warren did a good job and came off with appropriate humility and reasonable inclusiveness, considering where he’s coming from.

  3. Woody Says:

    Celeste, your experience sounds like tailgating at a football game but without the barbeque.

    The poem stunk. It didn’t even rhyme.

    What did you think of the crowd booing President Bush? Real class.

    Anyone who is familiar with Joseph Lowery would have known that he would work the race card into the benediction.

    Lord,…and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around… when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.

    Good grief! A black man was just elected to the most powerful position in the world…with the help of white voters. Is Lowery offended that Obama is going to sit in the back of the new Cadillac Presidential Limousine? If anything, maybe Obama’s election will make the race pimps less influential.

  4. Woody Says:

    Celeste affected by Obama virus: LINK

  5. Nipsey Russell Says:

    Woody, your experience sounds like taking a shit in a pigsty but without the benefit of having tissue paper. Chill out my white brother.

  6. Al Franken Says:

    “Celeste, your poem stunk. It didn’t even rhyme.”
    Woody.

    Woody, your just a big fat crybaby like Norm Coleman.

  7. reg Says:

    “it didn’t even rhyme”

    Uh oh…somebody tell Walt Whitman his poetry sucks.

  8. Rebel Girl Says:

    Sounds like wants to pick a fight with Big Bill Broonzy – whose song Lowery was riffing on.

    Go for it Woody. I think he can take you.

  9. John Mccain Says:

    My bedfellow Woody. . . I have gotten over my big loss. The “Alaskan pitbull” has gotten over it. Even my soon to be 93 year old mother has gotten over it.
    Now do as Sean Hannity says, “be a good American”. Be a good American Woody and get over it.

  10. mama celeste Says:

    You are a mean man Woody.

  11. Woody Says:

    I had never heard of Big Bill Broonzy until Rebel Girl mentioned him. Then, I found this helpful reference: LINK. Sometimes, even the the race pimps will have to admit that times have changed. You can’t keep on complaining when a black man is elected President and reference lyrics from a blues song recorded in 1951.

    John, I’m over “it”, but I’m not going to shut up. But, haven’t you noticed that, after eight years, you guys still aren’t over Bush beating Gore.

    I can see the pictures over reg’s mantle now…Christ with praying hands, FDR, JFK, MLK Jr., and, now, Obama–The Chosen One.

  12. mama celeste Says:

    You are a mean man Woody. Mean and stupid.

  13. Denise Says:

    It’s hard to drive past your composure Woody.

  14. Woody Says:

    Celeste: Two million people–actually more, I’m sure of it….

    Though early estimates Tuesday ranged as high as 2 million, satellite images of Obaam’s swearing-in suggested the actual size of the throng may have been closer to half that, according to Clark McPhail, a sociologist who has been analyzing crowds on the mall since the ’60s. “It was sparser than I thought,” said McPhail, an emeritus sociologist from the University of Illinois. “There were lots of open spaces.”

    Whom are you going to believe?

  15. Celeste Fremon Says:

    I’d definitely go with me. But then again, I’m me-partial.

  16. Aunt Bee Says:

    “I’m over it, I’m not going to shut up… You guys still aren’t over Bush beating Gore. I can see reg’s mantle now…Christ with praying hands…”

    As stoical as a turtle, Woody. We were expecting an emotional hemorrhage from you. I think your brain goes down with the sun… Your a colossal waste of time. You suffer from weight gain and internet addiction. Worse, you act like a demented monkey Woody. Its not bad enough you crap on your blog but you have to jump over to others and crap on theirs too huh? You are worse than ever Woody, get yourself a woman!

  17. Woody Says:

    Aunt Bee, rush out and buy this for your mantle now! Chia Obama
    Hail to the CH- CH- CH- CHIEF

  18. Denise Says:

    Celeste, logic is not a constant in Woody’s behavior. I’m with you.

  19. Listener Says:

    Via Andrew Sullivan a link to a Geoeye satellite photo of the mall during the inauguration. The apparent ant swarms are people clustered around jumbotrons. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom.

    Dunno about anyone else, but the would be sociologists I knew, who could also count, became economists. Just sayin’.

  20. Don Quackers alter ego Says:

    I hate Woody, Mike Higby, and Mary Cummins wawawawawawaw………

  21. Listener Says:

    I keep forgetting about the limits to Celeste’s site.

    Andrew Sullivan and Geoeye satellite photo above, are embedded links, visible if you mouse-over.

  22. Woody Says:

    Obama has been President for a full day. Have we cut-and-run from Iraq yet?

  23. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Obviously, despite my cavalier statements, I have no way of knowing at all what the count was since I was only one person without the aide of a helicopter. BUT, if the big immigration march in LA was a million people, this crowd certainly appeared to be at least twice as large.

    This article explains why the sat photo likely didn’t get the full picture.

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2009/01/inaugural-crowd.html

    I also notice that the sat photo cuts off before the WWII memorial where a whole other group of ant clusters began, and stretched, with some sparser areas, all the way to the Lincoln memorial.

    In any case, with greater and lesser degrees of density, the entire mall was filled with people. Yet the way the sat photo seems to read density is a little misleading based on what I physically saw around me.

    Okay, that’s all the crowd defending I’ll do.

  24. SanFer Says:

    Conditioned like a lab rat trained to push a lever for food, Woody too, pushes the “Submit Comment” for attention. He’s wonderfully primitive Celeste, where did you pick him up?

  25. Rebel Girl Says:

    never heard of Big Bill Broonzy?

    that explains everything.

    ‘night all!

  26. John Moore Says:

    Celeste,
    I’m glad that you and all who supported Obama had such a great day.

    It truly is a historic time when a black man has been elected to the most powerful office in the land

    I hope some of the rancor can cease now. I read an article where the Republican leaders of Congress are pretty comfortable with Obama, perhaps more-so than Pelosi and Reid. Strange world – maybe it really is a change.

    On the speech… did Obama really write that speech? I thought everyone used speech writers these days.

  27. Jo Allen Says:

    Ohama is a writer and a good one, too.

  28. John Moore Says:

    Yes, he is. But did he write that speech?

  29. Celeste Fremon Says:

    It’s my understanding that he wrote it for the most part but also made handy use of a group of speech writers, one 27-year-old in particular.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/20/barack-obama-inauguration-us-speech

    PS: John I fully share your hope that Obama will successfully bring an end to the partisan rancor that has been so crippling to the country. I also think that McCain, despite some of the things he said during the campaign, is genuinely working to help Obama in healing the divisions.

  30. El Chavo Says:

    Sanfer, Aunt Bee, Nipsey Russel, Santiago, Conchita, Don Culo, Mustang Sally, Big Betty, Drinking with Tony how many names does the pendejo from Highland Parque post his comments about Woody, Higby and Mary Cummins?

    No seas tan pendejo tu abuelita is watching, jejejeje

  31. reg Says:

    “the Republican leaders of Congress are pretty comfortable with Obama, perhaps more-so than Pelosi and Reid. Strange world”

    If you believe stuff like the Republican congressional leadership is more “comfortable” with Obama than are Pelosi and Reid, you do indeed live in a strange world. Largely fabricated by bizarre right-wing echo speak that believes its own weird constructions about Democrats and liberalism. The rancor will end when the crazies like Limbaugh who wield major influence over the more credulous shock troops (and sheep) of contemporary “conservatism” end the cycle they started when they started their crusade to destroy Bill Clinton. Someone such as yourself who posts crap about lynching New York Times journalists – a la Ann Coulter – has a lot of nerve yammering about “rancor.”

  32. Jo Allen Says:

    The angry wingnuts are showing their true colors. Rush Limbaugh said yesterday that he hopes Obama will fail.

  33. dacalicious Says:

    “church hymn, full of major cords …” Chords, Ms. Fremon. Chords. Being a teacher, you must be perfect at all times! :)

    (Great entry, by the way … felt like I was there.)

  34. Woody Says:

    The press is determined to give Obama passes on mistakes and to make whatever he does look better than past administrations, such as with the crowd estimates.

    Obama’s Million Ghost March

    I doubt it would surprise anyone here that the media would go to their best lengths to over-estimate the number of people at Obama’s inauguration. But just how far? Try a million people.

    ASU journalism professor Stephen Doig took it to the satellite image to get an accurate count of the crowd. His tally, after even accounting for those still in route to the event: 800,000. Now let’s look at how the working Obamalists portrayed that to the public. ….

    Celeste, are you teaching your students to report facts or data that they just make up?

  35. Celeste Fremon Says:

    I’m clearly teaching my students to misspell things, based on my proofing of the last few days. Arrrggghhh. (Thanks to those who have noted corrections needed.)

    Woody, those sat photos only showed part of the mall and they were taken 45 minutes before the event began, before the monster influx that occurred at the end. AND, based on those incomplete and early photos other statisticians gridded it out and came up with a far larger count.

    This is a stupid argument.

  36. Woody Says:

    Celeste: BUT, if the big immigration march in LA was a million people, this crowd certainly appeared to be at least twice as large.

    Was the L.A. immigration march really one-million people, or is that a phony number, too, like the “Million Man March” that fell about 700,000 short and forced the National Park Service from being allowed to estimate future crowds.

    You folks love to exaggerate for the sake of your own causes. Then, you try to say it’s a stupid argument when called out.

    Try this one on for size: Nielsen Ratings – Final Update: The Obama inauguration was watched by 37.8 million, second only to Reagan’s 41.8 million in 1981. Oooh, that must hurt.

  37. Celeste Fremon Says:

    The million person estimate for the March 2006 gran marcha was the LAPD’s number. Note: Our local police force is not a group generally known for crowd inflation.

  38. John Moore Says:

    reg writes:

    Someone such as yourself … has a lot of nerve yammering about “rancor.”

    Bwahhhh! Pot. Kettle. Black.

  39. John Moore Says:

    Celeste,
    It would be nice if the country could debate policy differences (which will be plenty and huge) rather than attacking personalities. That’s where I’m hoping for improvement. So far, so good.

    I do wish, however, that Obama would drop the habit of first denigrating our condition before promising to raises it. His inaugural speech had too much of that in it, although less than his campaign speeches. It is a subtle rhetorical trick, but it is offensive.

  40. Kyle Says:

    “but it is offensive”

    What he “denigrated” was the performance of a terrible administration, who created a culture of injustice and incompetence that has our country reeling. That’s not “offensive”–it’s addressing our country’s reality. Why you take offense to it is clearly some emotional issue of your own, and one that you might do well to resolve through counseling. Characterizing it as “offensive” is a cute rhetorical trick, though. Transparent, but endearing in a pitiful sort of way.

  41. "reg" Says:

    “the habit of first denigrationg our condition…it is offensive”

    Fine Whine from a rightwing crank who wants to hang journalists.

  42. "reg" Says:

    Four years ago John Moore was posting crap like this at Jay Rosen’s site:

    “John Kerry went around spewing untrue, vicious and divisive communist propaganda. I have as much respect for someone who did that as I do for a Ku Klux Klan grand wizard (or whatever they are). Instead of attacking blacks, Kerry attacked Vietnam Veterans, in a deliberate attempt to cause us to lose the war.”

    Suddenly he wants an end to “rancor” and to debate “policy differences” rather than personalities.

    Fuck you, John. You’re a despicable scumbag. It’s really that simple.

  43. don quixote Says:

    “It is a subtle rhetorical trick, but it is offensive.”

    Cry me a river John, this whine from the same person who makes ludicrous statements such as “the second generation offspring of well behaved immigrants are highly prone to violence and gangs.”

    The pot calling the kettle black indeed.

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