I saw all emotions today.
Grown men broke into tears, women closed their eyes in quiet contemplation and little children smiled in wonder. Others showed regret and anger at what is now the past, and happiness at the present.
I saw 2 million people crowd into the nation’s capital for a national cleansing.
Yes, Barack H. Obama became the nation’s 44th president today in D.C., but it was the people here that were the real stories.
They came from all nations, all colors and religions, they hugged each other, danced together, prayed together, booed and shouted in unison, and listened like you never thought 1.9 million people could listen.
The sound of that many people listening at one time is amazing in itself.
As I looked behind me from what lucky for me was a good seat to view the inauguration, the crowd, stretching as far back — almost 2 miles — as the Lincoln Memorial was at times more interesting than what was happening on the Capitol’s steps.
There was the Wave — and then the chants — Obama! Obama! Obama!
And then, they waved small American flags — thousands of them at the same time.
It was an incredible sight and sound.
What was happening behind me was surreal.
But with what was happening in front of me, it was clear why.
I watched a new president tell the nation that it was time to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of re-making America.”
As a reporter, I’m supposed to be dispassionate about this kind of stuff.
But I couldn’t help it, I felt some of those emotions too. And I’m not the only one.
I saw other reporters cry and clench their fists in commitment to the values that a new president has asked us all to seek.
That’s because those reporters and myself, some might say, are just crazy liberals, bent on ruining the American way of life. But I don’t think so. But I think there was more going on in what I saw today.
Two million people crowded into a city — there wasn’t one reported arrest as of the evening I write this — braved the cold and listened in silence and wonder as Obama began his presidency with where he left off his candidacy. With a message of hope.
And I have to come back to how that message resonated in the crowd.
Many times today, people told me this was a “miracle,” that a black man would become president in their lifetime and come to inspire and unite so many people.
But it goes to show that a message of hope and peace, when it’s articulated the right way at the right time, can go a long way.
But as I walked around D.C today I saw signs that we have a long way to go.
It is clear, many blacks are struggling to make a buck in D.C. And when you look across the nation, many communities over the last several years have witnessed a widening disparity of incomes.
I could see those two economies when just walking around the town.
I think that’s what made Obama’s message all the more powerful — when he talked about how our badly weakened economy has been battered all the more with greed and “childish thinking” of the past.
And that’s what makes this mass of humanity all the more powerful.
Obama is right. It’s not about him, it’s about all those people I saw today, rising in unison for change, walking en masse along a closed D.C. interstate to a simple of oath of office, standing in lines for hours, wheeling their elderly loved ones up and down city streets in wheelchairs.
This is the America Obama is talking about.
My feet were really tired when I got home tonight, and my face was cold from the freezing wind and my lips badly chapped. But I’ve got no right to complain. Many people sacrificed a lot more than a cold day to get to this day.
And it’s on their shoulders that we can all stand. Because it really is about us. Not one man.
It’s just that we have one man to thank for reminding us of that.