Wednesday, January 21, 2009




This has been such a strange time to land in the U.S., with a powerful contradictory undercurrent of fear, uncertainty, nervousness – all over the economy which is haunting everyone like an unwelcome specter – and incredible hope and excitement over Obama’s looming presidency and the concurrent vanishing of W from the national stage.

I have certainly never experienced anything even remotely similar to the excitement about this inauguration. Obviously and admittedly, I hang out with a lot of liberal people and it could be argued that there are tens of millions of people who have been dreading this day, I suppose. But I don’t know when the last time that so many people wanted to be in Washington…just throngs of people heading there and so many others who wanted to go, were envious of those who did so. And even the staunchest Republicans have to feel that we have a president again. It seems like Bush checked out six months ago or more. It has been sort of eerie to be leaderless and almost sad to watch him diminish ever more with each pathetic attempt to rehab his image before departing.

I thought this article in the NYT -- a dispatch form the heart of red country was interesting if weak . I mean, couldn’t they have actually gone somewhere instead of just chatting with a cigar store owner on the phone for five minutes? Anyhow, there is a sense of excitement about Obama and a new beginning that stretches beyond those who worked hard for him and even those who voted for him. I really do believe that. It seems like the adults are in charge again. Then again, a lot of people thought the same thing when W and Cheney took over from Clinton.

I would have enjoyed going to Tulsa -- or Carlisle, PA for that matter -- and writing a piece like that as well. But that’s not what I did. The one thing I knew is I wanted to really experience this event. I did not want to watch it alone on TV. I joined up with my friends George and Stephanie Lange and went to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, where there were almost 3,000 people gathered in the beautiful hall to watch it all on a large screen TV.

The crowd included about 300 Newark High schools students, about 1,000 invited special guests – community and church leaders, patrons of NJPC etc – and over 1,000 “just folks” who got free tickets. It was probably 85-90 percent African American And people were dressed up big time. Lots of beautiful dresses, great suits and fur coats. And lots of kids and many, many three-generation or more families.. grandparents, parents, kids, maybe great-grandparents.

It was all very moving. There was such a remarkable level of excitement and buzz and anticipation. Early shots of Michelle Obama and the kids drew big applause, as did Jimmy Carter and the Clintons entrance – did anyone else notice how not excited Bill looked? W and Cheney drew stony silence. No boos or catcalls. And then they finally showed Obama and the place went wild, with a spontaneous standing ovation and a prolonged cheer. People were crying all around and hugging each other.

In the lobby amongst the merchandise being sold was a T shirt with a big picture of Obama and these words: “I lived to see it.” And that was certainly a dominant sentiment amongst the older people in attendance.

I thought hat everyone who spoke rose to the occasion, including Dianne Feinstein. Rick Warren’s selection ahs been roundly criticized by many on the left and I certainly understand why but he sure was well received by the crowd here, many of whom were calling out “amen” and “Yes yes!” and a majority of whom recited the scriptures section aloud. Big cheers for Aretha and gasps, cheers and laughs when they showed her and her wild ass hat. That really moved me. Her voice is still just remarkable in its power and depth and that version of “My Country Tis of Thee” had to be heard as a political statement and a proud victory exclamation as much as a patriotic anthem – and you could easily say all three are very bound together.

The excitement was growing and growing and it just built until Obama was called up and took the oath. People were yelling out “Yes we did” and once he finished the oath and was officially president, there was a lot more hugging and crying. Many, many people in that room were clearly witnessing a ream they never thought hey would see in their lifetime.

I thought Obama gave a really solid speech that started out pretty somber at least in part to tamp down expectations. He wa grabbing America by the collar and saying, "It really is even worse than you think." I wondered what W thought sitting there listening to his term be repudiated.