If there was ever one time for mass American repentance, it was one week ago today, on Capitol Hill.
If there was ever one time where millions of Americans and other citizens of the world could assemble peacefully, without a single issue--not one--it was one week ago Tuesday, at Capitol Hill.
If there was ever one time where true peace, love and happiness took place without the fluffy Woodstock romance, it was one week ago today on Capitol Hill.
If there was ever a time where two million people could stand in one place for nearly seven hours, frigid from the cold, stiff from their train or bus rides, sore from their miles and miles of walking, their toes numb and their fingers achy, and yet be excited, smiling and celebrating the entire wait, it was one week ago today on Capitol Hill.
For the first time in history, an African-American was sworn-in as President of the United States. But to say that was the only moment of significance would sell the day short.
Yes, that was the most important part. But with it came so much more.
Tuesday, after 232-plus years, came the final stamp to the Constitution. America had collectively tore down it's own Berlin Wall. Now, any American child can say they can do anything, and actually believe it.
And it couldn't have come at a more necessary time in American history since World War II. And President Barack Obama answered the call given to him by his fellow citizens in an inaugural address that was more than just a statement to us and to the rest of the world. It was a pep-talk. It was a directive. And at the mall on Washington, two million people took their cues from the man they helped put into office and marched, and calmly carried their President's sentiments en masse into the streets of Washington, bringing that message back where they came from.
Silver Creek, New York. And Greensboro, North Carolina. And Sidney, Australia. And Columbus, Ohio. And Kansas. And even Jamaica. And Ireland. And Rochester. And Buffalo. And Batavia.
This writer was one of those two million people who stood a mile from the Rotunda, but heard every word spoken from the podium Tuesday morning and early afternoon, leaving via bus Monday evening and riding all night to the DC corner of 17th and L Streets before walking an estimated four miles to the mall, passing the Washington Monument along the way and eventually stood alongside millions of Americans, for for six hours before trudging all the way back. Aye!
Yet, we all had the same idea.
And if there was one day and place to take a loved one back to, Tuesday January 20th at the mall in Washington DC would be near the top of the list.
Sure, it started out as just another radio bit from a Rochester morning show. It ended-up being a life-changing experience.
It's cliche to say, "You had to be there" and "I wish you were there." However, as often as writers hate regurgitating those redundant sayings, the reason why they're used so often is because, they're true.
Peace. Love. Happiness. Sounds like party in the Asbury-Haight neighborhood of San Francisco in the 1960's. Only it was a cold January morning in Washington. Yet five decades later, millions withstood the elements not only to witness a culmination of that decade's civil rights movements, but to seek the answers to the grave problems that face today's America.
What separates this inauguration from others, however, is that everyone seemed to nod, smile and believe every word from their new President's mouth instead of just hoping it will happen.
President Clinton preached change in 1993. But even the popular and charismatic leader started his administration after being elected by plurality, mocked by infidelity in the Arkansas governor's mansion, and a polarizing wife.
President George W. Bush was elected by recounts, then re-elected by reluctance.
President Obama's slogan was "Change We Can Believe In." Only time will tell, but when you can motivate record crowds to congregate from all over the country on a pitch of grass in the nation's capitol on a frosty winter's morning, that's a pretty good start.
Aside from that, historically, there was much more to it.
Watching from several jumbo-trons interspersed throughout the mall, the Million (or two) American March mouthed the words reading them from the closed-caption chyrons from the bottom of the screens as Barack Obama took the Oath of Office. It was if America, in all its colors, sizes, shapes and backgrounds collectively renewed Lady Liberty's Constitutional vows for our founding fathers, and more importantly, for generations, present and future. It was a day where all Americans crowded--yet not crammed--the mall and took a vow to bring the nation back from the depths of doom that have encapsulated it since September 11, 2001, a day that has still gone answered.
America renewed its Constitution last Tuesday, actually believing in each of the words written on it instead of the idea behind it. America stood on its tippy-toes to catch a glimpse of the man taking the oath from President Lincoln's Bible, despite Chief Justice John Roberts (a native Buffalonian) botching the words. America announced to the world it would reclaim its rightful place as "The Land of Hopes and Dreams" Bruce Springsteen once wrote about--the same place my great grandparents and perhaps yours dreamed of when they arrived long before they'd ever learn there would even be a YOU down the line. Lucky you. Lucky me. Yet, we should never forget, hardly an easy decision.
America, united, stood like a faithful married couple after 50 years, renewing their promises, showing their children and grandchildren that all can truly be worked out, that life and love can still stand throughout many dangers, toils and snares. That America, created by the rest of the world from the castoffs of fascist regimes, will return as it once was, but this time, not leave anyone behind due to race or anything else.
Much of the two million people stood and amened Rick Warren's prayer. Much of the two million people sung alongside Aretha Franklin and her pretty, gray bow hat. Two million people donned caps and hand warmers and mittens and gloves. Two million people stopped traffic. Two million people of every race represented.
If that's a microcosm of unity, America is in good hands, regardless of whom you voted for last November.
On that mall Tuesday morning, President Obama talked to America. But he was also talking to himself. And the millions who watched may as well have been reciting the speech in the mirror. There was real hope in store, real change to take place, and real work to do in getting it done.
Meanwhile, down on floor, there were no schemes. Nobody selling garbage products. No beggars. There was no violence. Nobody attempting to even sneak a cigarette (from this guy's vantage point, three-and-a-half big screens back) until Mr. Obama had taken the Oath, when one gentleman lit a Macanudo, signifying a satisfying sense of victory.
And it continued all the way back to the bus, four miles later. And everything was calm, cool, and jubilant. No pushing, no shoving, no idiots. Just everyone looking after each other, ensuring each other's safety, helping with directions, with loved ones, with groups, and even over the barriers as nobody was either arrested, or trampled.
What a country. What an idea.
For once, millions stood listening to their new leader, who promised to restore The Land of Hopes and Dreams to its rightful owners. No, Barack Obama is not a messiah. He didn't promise a new Jerusalem to fall from the sky into Washington, followed by a thousand years of peace. He didn't bring an easy button, nor say he found the one lost on President Bush.
He just said we need to get back to who we are. If you never read the Constitution, you got the best cliff notes in Washington, Tuesday. People talk about the ghosts of Yankee Stadium. Well, if there is such a thing, the ghosts of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and even Benjamin Franklin may have been meandering the Capitol in their colonial wear that day. There was that sense, let's just put it that way.
For once, millions stood with real hope that they'll never have to congregate at the altar of America begging for hope and change again with caps in their hands waiting for miracle to fill them from the sky to take back to their families.
Instead, they took that message to the streets of Washington. Then to their buses and airplanes. Then to their hometowns. And it's a privilege to share the experience with you.
Hopefully, in 2013, I'll be able to attend the next inauguration.
And if you told me the same man will be taking the same oath, it's a safe bet that America, and the rest of the world, got Tuesday's message.