The people speak…

 

 

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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.

‘Seeing it with us…’

 

 

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Frankly, I was a bit frustrated today.

It was freezing, and I, like maybe 80,000 others, had to stand in line for hours to get into their Congressperson’s reception. I even missed a discussion over at the National Cathedral on Martin Luther King’s legacy.

But then I met Altadena resident Dolores Hickambottom and it reminded me of why we’re all here.

Hickambottom, 77, is well-known in Pasadena for her and her late husband’s work in the struggle for civil rights and desegregated schools in the area.

You’d think that as a local leader in that struggle, she would have been to D.C. before.

But seeing Barack Obama take the oath of the office in person was the moment she decided to be here for the first time.

So there she was with her daughter Ann on Monday at Rep. Adam Schiff’s reception, before the first man of her color becomes president, humbled by the moment, but carrying with her

Frankly, I was a bit frustrated today.

It was freezing, and I, like maybe 80,000 others, had to stand in line for hours to get into their Congressperson’s reception. I even missed a discussion over at the National Cathedral on Martin Luther King’s legacy.

But then I met Dolores Hickambottom and it reminded me of why we’re all here.

Hickambottom, 77, is well-known in Pasadena for her and her late husband’s work in the struggle for civil rights and desegregated schools in the area.

You’d think that as a local leader in that struggle, she would have been to D.C. before.

But seeing Barack Obama take the oath of the office in person was the moment she decided to be here for the first time.

So there she was with her daughter Ann on Monday at Rep. Adam Schiff’s reception, before the first man of her color becomes president, humbled by the moment, but carrying with her the pride and the hopes of people who sacrificed their lives for that moment.

Hickambottom, who herself was born into the heat of a segregated New Orleans, isn’t here just for herself.

She’s here for her late husband, L.B. — a 16-year Pasadena school board member and veteran of World War II and Korea. He came back from the war to buy a home, only to find he couldn’t buy in certain areas of the city because of his color; for L.B.’s sister, Verdia Arnold, who couldn’t find a job in the area, but who ultimately became an officer for the Tuskegee ; and for her uncle, Peter Oscar Dupree, who served in France during World War II, and died there.

“I wish these people were here,” she said. “I happen to be spiritual, so I believe that somehow they are here, and they are going to see this with us.”

There’s a lot of people in D.C. this weekend who believe the same thing, and they too are carrying with them hopes and dreams of many who could not be here.

A lot of what you see are African-American mothers and daughters, who are here to relish all of this not just for themselves.

It’s like Dolores Hichambottom said, “I am bearing witness for those who have gone before…”

With regard to Obama, she was on board from the start, she said. And her daughter Ann noted that that is not insignificant.

A lot of people from her generation were crazy about Obama — a similar zeal that Ann noticed in young people. Perhaps it was because both generations had the same sense of idealism that drive their interest in civil rights, she said.

“I just see that they’ve gone crazy together for the same person, and once that ball got rolling, you couldn’t stop that,” Ann said.

The ball will continue rolling tomorrow at noon when Dolores Hickambottom sees Obama sworn in.

She’ll start to remember…

“I guess I’m going to feel a mixture of pride and a little melancholy for the people won’t see it,” she said.

On the shoulders of history…

 

                                                                            

                                                   

 

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I met Terrence Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier on Saturday. They may not be household names for some, but in civil rights history, they are giants.

They are members of the Little Rock Nine and are in town to see the inauguration.

The Little Rock Nine were the group of black students who were blocked from entering Little Rock Central High School in 1957 — three years after desegregation — because of the color of their skin. It took federal troops to escort them into the then all-white school and to protect them. And even still, that did not protect them from racially charged abuse.

And yet, they are not angry or bitter people.

Roberts said the abuse was intense, but they absorbed it.

It’s wasted energy to be angry or bitter, he said. It was energy to spend on living, and living he has indeed done — long enough for sure to see Obama elected.

I’m so grateful to have met these people.

Just as they never thought they’d see an African-American become president, I never thought I’d get a chance to meet one person – let alone two — who were at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights in this country.

Forefront is perhaps the wrong word.

Just as Obama’s election stems from what the Little Rock Nine endured, and the progress it ultimately created, people like LaNier and Roberts are humble about where their own strength came from.

“We are standing on others’ shoulders,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A necessary evil?

 

 

 

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I’ve never seen so many porta-potties in one place in my life. They are ugly, green and everywhere.

You look at the beautiful white tones of the Capitol and the lawns of the National Mall, and then you see these things — rows and rows of them — all around. Although, I must say, there is a certain interesting symmetry to the rows of them…

Anyway, they’ve never been more necessary.

Turns out, there’s going to be about 5,000 of these portable restrooms all over the National Mall and the inaugural parade route for the expected gigantic crowd.

I read one estimate that based on the number of people expected to show up for Tuesday’s festivities, that will be one toilet for every 300 people.

I think I’m going to eat and drink light on Tuesday morning..if you know what I mean.

But if I really have to go, at least I’ll have options…