This is my third inauguration.
The first was 2005. Bush had stolen the White House for a second time; people were pissed. But not that pissed. They were accepting of their fate. The peace movement was in disarray, the opposition parties pathetically struggling along. Few people showed up in DC other than some rich people in fur coats, complaining that they had to wait and go through security like normal people. Chris Matthews was screaming at Joe Scarborough while I waited to be let through the gates.
By the time that Cheney’s limo sped down the parade route going about 50 miles an hour, I was bored. Snow balls were thrown at the limo and I didn’t even care. Any thoughts that this democratic experiment called America was actually working, were greatly misguided.
2009 changed that, at least for the moment.
People cried. Lots of people cried.
There was hugging, dancing and cheering.
I was playing the cynical burned-out journalist. But eventually I broke; I continued taking photos through the tears. I knew what was coming during Obama’s first term, but this was a moment in history. 1.8 million people don’t get together and cheer all that often in America.
The Hope was palpable. You could feel it work its way into your soul, and as Bush’s helicopter flew overhead the crowd seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief.
Now, four years later, the crowds are a bit less enthusiastic.
Not nearly as large, and a little bit more cynical. Maybe that’s the wrong word, maybe realistic is a better one. People seemed to understand that hope alone wasn’t going to get us to change.
Obama’s words seemed to know this feeling would be in the crowd. “Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.”
This sounded to me less like, “Ask not what your country can do for you…. ” and more like, “You’re on your own – I tried.”
But many of the people that I talked to in the audience still had some sort of hope – not Hope with a capital H, like last time – but hope, as in a prayer. They were all asking him to work on things that he promised to work on before.
These two asked for him to work on LGBT rights.
She asked him to work on education reform.
She asked him to work on the prison industrial complex.
Everyone realized that it was just a hope that Obama might actually be able to get to these issues in the current political climate. That “skepticism” that he talked about in his second inaugural address was back – maybe not in the same form that it might have been for these same people eight years ago – but it was there.
Even though I wasn’t able to hear all of it, as I was once again running to the security gates, trying to get set up on the parade route – I could hear the crowd cheer – I could see the blur of hundreds of thousands of waving flags off in the distance.
As I was getting patted down and my bag searched for the third time that day – I wasn’t sure how I felt. There was no residual elation from 2009. None of the contact high that the nearly two million Obama supporters gave me last time.
I thought that there might be. In fact I had hoped that I could get that feeling one more time – have the cynicism lifted, just for a moment. If only I could forget the drones bombing Yemen, the pipeline started in the Midwest, the off-shore drilling platform off of Kodiak.