Witness – 1.20.2009


I admit it. I caught Obama fever early in his career, although my fever was perhaps more chronic. I remember when he was an aspiring state politician in Illinois. He would visit with small groups of voters in their homes and answer every question like his life depended on it. He was serious. I once sat across from him at one of these so-called “house coffees” many years ago. I was immature then, so his shoes caught my attention before anything else. His shoe game, while not on point, was in no way reflective of his mental game and obvious sincerity.

I remember when he ran for U.S. Senate. He would attend neighborhood fund-raisers at a Black-owned restaurant on Chicago’s South Side and speak to everyone, again, like his life depended on it. So, when he announced that he wanted to take G.W.’s job, I volunteered right away, because by then I was mature enough to realize the quality of my life depended on it.

After years of supporting him locally and nationally, I feel like I’ve lived with him for a very long time. I think we all realize by now that this man is the real deal–truly brilliant, pleasant, and concerned about everybody. So, on Inauguration Day I couldn’t help but travel to DC with my significant other to see if Obama would really be sworn in as the 1st Black and 44th president of the United States of America. I wasn’t going to believe it unless I saw it for myself. As Black people, we always believe things can get tricky for a Black man, no matter how hard we work, how many rules we follow, how likeable we are, how smart, and so on.

Well, I’m here to bear witness…we have a Black president!

That day in DC felt like the worst neighborhood festival ever–wall-to-wall people; in fact, to move through the crowd we had to come to some agreement with the strangers standing next to us to switch places to continue on to our destination. Of course, we had no clue where we  were going, but moving felt productive. Most folks at the festival were extremely cooperative and easy-going. Like most festivals and the crowds who love them, we didn’t have an itinerary for the day or a particular desire for anything. We were going with flow and, as one guy put it, “vibing off the energy.” As broke, jobless, and homeless as so many Americans are, especially African Americans, it was amazing to see 2 million happy people.

There were people in trees, on top of portable toilets, and on other people’s shoulders. And Black folks with Capitol tickets seemed to walk with a special gait, like they belonged to an exclusive club. I guess they did. They belonged to the 200,000 Americans who had enough clout to get Capitol tickets.

The crowd booed when W appeared on jumbotrons and when he was introduced. Still showing no respect for the office, the crowd sang “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, good bye.” A guy from New Jersey, right behind us, repeatedly yelled “murderer.” Actually, GW always seemed like a nice guy. And I liked Laura Bush. She appeared to be a good and decent person. I admired her spunk when she recently told a TV news reporter that she didn’t appreciate Obama’s comments about her husband. You go, girl! Defend your man.

Although most attendees probably heard Obama’s speech, I’m convinced they weren’t listening. He was no longer talking about hope. Change was still a key theme, but he promised it would come at a price and take a lot of time. Ah, but who cares? Things are so bad now that any tiny improvement will feel like an enormous accomplishment. No one noticed that he was outlining a pretty depressing agenda, because everyone was so thrilled by what his presidency represents: the possibility that anything is possible for all of us…perhaps.

At the end of the big event, we waited for the crowds to thin before we decided to begin our journey home [to the hotel in Viriginia]. I noticed that every scrap of newsprint on the ground had something to do with Obama. It was really weird. He has really captured our imaginations, hasn’t he?

Well, we didn’t have a map and we didn’t care. We just wandered around until we hit the Potomac River and walked the rest of the way. It’s amazing what you’ll do when you’re inspired.

Speak your peace. Be well.

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