Culture

Stars and Stripes: Obama’s Inauguration

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“We, the people…”

There was a moment in the middle of Barack Obama’s Inaugural speech, after he’d invoked the spirit of Martin Luther King Junior and the founding fathers who came before both of them, when the image on the giant screen in front of me flashed to the sea of people that filled the National Mall in Washington DC. It was a moment that, quite literally, took my breathe away, as I realized I was one of those people in that sea.

It’s not that I hadn’t known there were hundreds of thousands of people around me. On the contrary, I’d stood in queues with people, gone through security checks behind them, shared a shivering laugh or two about the dropping temperatures, and taken so many pictures of those wearing scarves and shirts with Obama’s image on them that I was very much aware of the bodies standing around me.

We’d all made our way into the “Gold” section of the ticketed public areas that had been created especially for President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration. Along the way, I’d resisted hawkers trying to sell me Obama flags, Obama buttons, Obama blankets, Obama mugs, and plastic bags with pictures of Obama and the First Lady from the first Inauguration on them. I shuffled past people wearing shirts from 2009, and interviewed them about how this year was different from four years ago.

But the image of seeing what all these people together looked like – stretching out from the front of the Capitol Building all the way down to the Washington Monument and possibly beyond – painted the scene in a way I’d not been able to, being in the section I was. The “Gold” area was close enough that I had a clear image of the Capitol Building in front of me, but far away enough that I needed to see a giant screen to be able to watch what was actually going on.

Together with the people around me, I listened to Beyonce belt out a glorious version of the Star-Spangled Banner, shuffled closer to see what Michelle and the Obama girls were wearing, and looked on as Obama raised his hand in Oath. And then I watched as people listened to Obama’s speech, nodding and uh-huh’ing, agreeing and cheering.

All moments that made me feel quite lucky to have witnessed this historic occasion. Although I’m not American, it is an event in time that has resonance across the world – America’s first black president, taking office for the second time. And hundreds of thousands of people were there to witness it happen.

It was an image Obama himself stopped to see again, just as he was walking off the Capitol Building stage. As he made his way out, he turned around and could be heard saying: “I want to look one more time. I’m not going to see this again.” His eyes gazing over that vast sea of people. It must have taken his breathe away too – one last time.

First published on msn.co.uk/socialvoices

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