It's hard to imagine that Pierre L'Enfant, the chief visionary behind the design and layout of Washington, D.C. could imagine way back in 1791, that the gargantuan National Mall he conceived, one of the largest civic spaces in the world, could ever be filled to capacity. It was intended to fulfill a symbolic function, not a practical one. But this morning two million people from all walks of life, from all over the nation and all over the world ditched their comfortable couches and streamed onto "America's Front Yard" to watch history on the making.
Barack Obama became the 44th president of the Unites States — a Black leader, a political progressive, a man with the middle name Hussein, made it to the presidency. And so did a nation. A year ago, when I came to my first Obama volunteer meeting it seemed an impossibility, but once again America has proven to world that "Yes, we can change," and change for the better.
Sadly, my video camera was lost in yesterday's crazy shuffle so I couldn't shoot video of the epic event. But in a certain way, the video couldn't have done it justice. To see the entire National Mall filled end to end with a sea of American flags waving and chanting "O-ba-ma" as the president elect took to the stage, is a moment that will be burned indelibly in my mind. It's hard to describe — something has changed. Something really big has shifted. It's not because we now have a Black or Progressive (or whatever other label you want to use) President. It feels like we have our Democracy back (with a capital 'D'). And the entire Mall was charged with that new-found enthusiasm.
I've had hundreds of conversations since arriving in D.C. just a few days ago, and I keep hearing the same thing in each conversation, a sense of genuine (and to some surprising) sense of patriotism. People who have spent their lives "battling the system" are eager and excited about the times ahead. Almost overnight, America feels like a country to be proud of. We can look past race and ethnicity and divisive politics. We can ditch failed policies and misdirected agendas. It doesn't matter whether you are a democrat or a republican, the accomplishment that we have made together as a nation is something we should all be proud of.
When the "Star-Spangled Banner" started playing and an estimated crowd of 1.9 million put their hands to their hearts to sing, I saw an African American boy (maybe about 7) right next to me singing his little heart out, and I wondered how different the world will be for him when he is my age (30 or so years from now). Will the air be clean? Will our climate be stabilized? Will racism be abolished and the now radical separation of wealth bridged?
And then I realized that this boy will never know a world in which a Black man could not be elected president and in which that president would not address global warming. For him, windmills and solar panels will never be marginalized (as they have been since the Reagan era) and instead will have their place powering the Nation's capital (more on that later). Times have changed, and if these things can be accomplished, anything can.
It was at that moment that I felt for the first time in long, long time my hand over my heart as I sang the anthem, filled with a boyish enthusiasm for this country that I love, a country which can pick itself up form the worst mistakes imaginable and begin again in a new direction.
For some amazing pictures of the inauguration check out the Boston.com compilation.
Photo: Windmill on the Mall