by Sonya Eskridge
Five o’clock a.m. was not nearly early enough to get up on Inauguration Day! Had I gotten up just a little earlier, maybe I would have been able to make it to the press riser on the National Mall, which is where I was supposed to have been.
In the end, all that mattered was that I made it somewhere to see the swearing-in of the first president I had ever voted for–firsthand. That’s more than I can say for many who came out to D.C. for this historic event.
History was made on Inauguration Day, but it took a very long road to get there (and see it). When I was a little girl growing up in Connecticut, my parents made sure they taught me and my older brother about democracy. In fact, during one election my parents brought us into the voting booths and had us pull the levers with them.
This election, I followed President Barack Obama (I will never get tired of saying that) from the very beginning of his campaign when he announced he was running as a Democratic candidate.
Working in the news industry meant I followed all the campaigns very closely. I can’t begin to recall how many of his sound bites I cut for TV, or how many of his stories I posted to my old station’s political website. Through it all, Barack (and his ideas) spoke to me. I liked the fact that he had worked with the very people he was trying to serve. Being a community organizer gave him an intimate knowledge of the real problems facing Americans. His ability to stay cool during increasingly nasty debates and personal attacks impressed me too.
So, on Election Day 2008, I couldn’t wait to vote! I picked out an outfit and went to bed early the night before so I could get to the polls with my family at o’dark-thirty on November 4, 2008. We cast our ballots in the gym at my old elementary school, which was kind of weird but kind of cool at the same time. When I got home, I was just too excited to go back to sleep. So, I stayed up and watched election coverage all day. I have to admit that I was a little scared that the Americans really weren’t ready for a Black president, but I was overwhelmed to find out that we were. For me, election night almost felt like New Year’s Eve. My parents were almost speechless at the returns, but when they composed themselves they quoted lines from “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the “Black National Anthem.”
On January 20, my coworker, Assistant Editor Whitney Teal, and I got off the Metro at the Gallery Place station, which should have given us a straight shot to the press area on the National Mall. When we arrived at 7th Street checkpoint just before 7 a.m., things came to a standstill. People clogged the street and no one could get through because a water main had broken farther up the street.
At that point, everyone was diverted to an entrance at 10th Street, and from there we were directed to continue up the edge of the parade route until we could cross it at 18th Street. Whitney and I asked every official we could about where the nearest press entrance was, and none of them gave us the same answer.
One redirection led us right by the AFL-CIO building near 15th Street. Just before we got to the intersection, people started bugging out. I mean they were screaming, jumping and waving. They just went nuts! I hurried ahead to see what was going on and just as I had gotten to a clearing with a decent view, some tall guy stepped in my way and wouldn’t move. As it turns out, Barack and Michelle had just stepped out of the building to begin their processional and they were waving to the crowd.
I can’t believe I got closer to the president and the first lady than most people got that day and I couldn’t see them! I was too through! This is why tall people in large crowds get on my nerves!
The whole detour was very disorganized and there were some points where I thought I might miss out on seeing the inauguration. That thought kept me going, because I had to be there somewhere to see Barack take his oath of office. I called my folks and had them pray for me that I would make it somewhere on the Mall by the time the swearing in started.
Because my family couldn’t be there, I made sure I brought a piece of each of them with me. I wore the gloves and hat my Mom gave me a few years ago; I brought the small stuffed animal my Dad bought for me as encouragement after an awful day at work (at another job, before I joined S2S) last year; and I wore the necklace my brother gave me for Christmas.
Whitney and I got separated when she had to make a pit stop. So we decided that we would just meet up at the nearest entrance to the National Mall. That turned out to be 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, which is behind the Washington Monument–about 10 blocks away from where we should have been.
So, for this monumental occasion, I was surrounded by people I didn’t even know. That didn’t matter though, because everyone was there to see something special and have a great time doing it! I waded into the crowd and found a pretty good spot to watch from. I noticed that it had warmed up a bit, so I was glad to get a little break from the crack-your-face cold and wind I had been walking around in all morning.
Leading up to the ceremony, the Jumbotron at the Washington Monument was streaming live video of what was going on at the U.S. Capitol. People began cheering when they got their first glimpse of Barack walking through the building (and trying not to crack a huge smile). You could tell he was trying to be stoic and serious but that he might start looking like the Kool-Aid Man at any moment.
The mood swiftly changed whenever George W. Bush or Dick Cheney was shown. I was trying to figure out why Dick was in a wheelchair. (Turns out he’d pulled a muscle in his back while moving boxes—nothing too dramatic.)
Everyone was a bit disappointed to find out that the picture on our Jumbotron was out of sync with what was being said, but that didn’t keep us from erupting into cheers when Barack finished his oath. We were all just happy to be able to say that we were there to see the first Black U.S. president take office, and it didn’t matter where we were watching from.