So I went to Washington this weekend. I left on Saturday morning and got back on Wednesday afternoon. It was a lot of walking, getting up before the sun, and standing, standing, standing. In any other situation I would be miserable–and, full disclosure, I sometimes was. But I’m glad I went.
Certainly there have been moments where I’ve wondered whether my attendance was some sort of self-serving gimmick. Despite the fact that I love Barack Obama and the campaign he ran and the administration he promises, I can’t shake a certain feeling of skepticism over all of this. I wonder how much of my decision to go to the inauguration was motivated by actual passion about what I was going to see and how much was simply a drive to say, “I was there.” It’s like the people who reached out and touched Obama when he passed by them at rallies. Not shaking his hand, just touching. Why?
On some weird level all of that really worries me.
But I was there, and I’m glad I was. For all my skepticism and cynicism and anxiety about the structure of our democracy and the institutions that make us who we are (confrontational, self-serving, partisan, pitbullish), somehow I was able to push those feelings aside for the day (as I did on Election Night, when I got embarrassingly intoxicated and cried like a big drunk baby). Because in the end, when other people reach out their hand to touch someone, you do too. And it feels good, reaching out with all those people toward one point.
When Barack Obama came out of the Capitol and stepped down onto that little outcropping where he gave his oath, everyone started waving. And, I mean, we were pretty far away from the Capitol, you know? There was no reason for us to wave. But we all did, and I watched the coverage on CNN that night and I guess everyone else did too, waved their little American flags all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial. That looked pretty cool.
I guess what I mean to say in this post is that my going to the inauguration wasn’t really about Barack Obama. I’m not touched by rituals, oaths, any of that. He’s President and that’s it, I don’t need to see him raising his hand to make it real for me. I think I went because I wanted to see that scale, all those American flags. I wanted to be in a surging, cheering, waving crowd, and not just at some concert or festival or whatever. I wanted to be like a sponge, soaking in all those good feelings, having that big happy communal experience. And hey, it worked. I was happy, everyone was happy, it was great. I had a good time.