NOTE: I’ve posted photos from Obama’s Baltimore appearance on my Facebook page. For those of you who are my Facebook Friends, you already know how to access them. I’ll add more over the next few days–as I add posts to this blog–from the inauguration. For those not on Facebook, here’s a public link to the photos.
Juanita Brown and I participated in a 3-hour teacher’s workshop yesterday morning at the Maryland Historical Society. MHS compiled a lesson plan on teaching middle and high school students about the triangle slave trade and the role of the North incorporating Traces of the Trade and Inheriting the Trade.
After lunch at a nearby Five Guys hamburger joint Juanita and I made our way to the Baltimore War Memorial to hear President-elect Barack Obama speak on his last stop before arriving in Washington, D.C. for his inauguration as our 44th President. Once we turned off Charles Street onto Baltimore we joined tens of thousands of people making their way forward. T-shirts, buttons, posters, hats, and hand-warmers–a very important item in today’s 20-degree weather–were being offered at dozens of booths and by dozens of individuals walking among the crowd. A man with a bullhorn exhorted passers-by to accept Jesus. We shuffled slowly down a street littered with newspapers, empty coffee cups, the occasional glove, posters and political and religious tracts that were being handed out by people all along the way.
Security was tight. All 35,000 people entering the open space between the War Memorial and City Hall had to pass through one of the dozens of metal detectors that had been set up for today’s event. Bags were checked. People were “wanded.” The line moved slowly. It was freezing cold. And I witnessed no short tempers, no complaints, no impatience; only calm determination to be present. Everyone appeared happy; giddy even.
By the time Juanita and I arrived the main viewing area was filled to capacity. We were directed off to the street on the outside of the main crowd and found a spot a couple hundred feet from the podium from which Obama would soon speak. The Morgan State University Choir was introduced and began by performing the Black National Anthem, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. They performed for half an hour to an audience that sang along, danced and cheered. Okay, it was mostly the black folks who sang along because they knew the words to songs that white folks were clearly not so familiar with. But everyone danced and cheered and it helped keep us warm inside and out.
And here’s the thing that struck me. I’m not sure how this will sound but I’m just going to say it and trust that my readers will understand–or accept–that this comes from my heart, honestly and with gratitude. I loved being in this space with black folks. The voters of the United States have just elected our first President of African descent and the impact on people of color is palpable and invigorating and inspiring. The couple who stood behind us knew every word to every song. They danced and sang and smiled and hugged. I’m so glad I was with Juanita, with whom I’ve shared the Traces of the Trade journey from the beginning in 2001. At one point she said, “if someone had told me when we met that you and I would be standing here today sharing this moment I would have told them they’re crazy.”
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve read in an article, or heard someone say, “I never thought this day would come in my lifetime.” Neither did I. This is one gigantic street party; a communal celebration. Still not once do I see anyone pushing or jostling or hassling anyone else. I see only fun, happy, dancing, joyful, enthused people all around. We’re yelling “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” and I look into the eyes of those around me as we acknowledge each other with smiles and knowing nods. I’m certain that this will be the most joyous inauguration–for all Americans–in our history.
I watched the motorcade drive by at the far end of the street where we stood. And then the announcer said over the public address system, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…” and the crowd erupted in screams “Obama! Barack! WooHOOO!” until a name was announced that was not our president-elect. This happened several times as different people offered a prayer, a song, a poem, a thought about this historic occasion. And with each introduction that did not conclude with the words “Barack Obama” the crowd became more excitable and teasingly began to boo the next person to take the mic.
When finally, about 4:25pm, Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden walked down the steps of the War Memorial building to the podium, the screams of joy from the crowd exploded. Hands with digital cameras in them shot into the air. People stood on their tip toes to catch a glimpse. We listened to Obama speak of hope, of change. When someone yelled “We love you Barack!” he responded, “I love you, too!” He acknowledged the people of Baltimore, the home of the national anthem. He spoke of fixing the economy, changing our approach to international affairs (including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), and of the importance of addressing global warming (his line “not that you’d know it today” got a huge laugh).
Though we couldn’t see it, when Obama concluded his brief remarks, he, Michelle, and the Bidens spent 15 minutes greeting the people directly in front of the podium. I know this from text messaging back and forth with Lindi throughout the two hours Juanita and I were there. “This is incredible,” I wrote. “And great singer… wow… deep voice” she replied as she watched on television from Oregon what I was witnessing in Baltimore.
“Obama… Obama… Obama… everyone screaming,” I wrote.
“Can you hear the speaker, or too much noise/people?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah, right by the speakers.”
“Okay, gonna watch now. I love you. I love our grandkids.”
Today we were with 35,000 people. On Tuesday it’ll be 2 million. I can’t wait.