President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term yesterday and I had the privilege of being there. While most Americans in colder areas were warmly ensconced in their homes, I stood in the National Mall for about seven hours in near-freezing temperatures to watch a politician speak. Yes, I am crazy for doing so, but I am equally crazy about politics. It was an extraordinary experience.
The day began a little after 4:00am, when a group of political science students stirred from our hotel and caught a Metro, where we sat huddled among countless others who were equally anticipatory of the day’s events.
After arriving at the National Mall and clearing security checkpoints, we began doing what we would do for much of the day: waiting. Fortunately, thanks to Congressman Brady’s office, we were waiting with a really good view of the presidential podium.
This five-hour period of waiting offered us the opportunity to get to know our fellow inaugural watchers. At first, we experienced the awkwardness of being physically proximate to strangers, but we soon developed a friendship of sorts with those around us.
I enjoyed discussing politics with an older couple from Minnesota, a group from Tennessee, and a middle-aged woman who drove from New York. We didn’t mind being thrust into each other’s personal space by then, and our individual experiences grew into a collective experience.
Things livened up when a man began climbing a nearby tree. There were laudatory comments about his industriousness and desire for a good view, but that changed when he pulled out a sign reading, “Pray to End Abortion.”
Attempting more to gain a platform than change minds, the man’s ranting, predictably, angered the crowd, who were more interested in hearing their President than a stranger’s views on abortion. Eventually, the police surrounded the tree, the novelty wore off, and our attention shifted back toward the Capitol Building.
To warm up the crowd, figuratively if not literally, the PS-22 Chorus and the Lee University Choir did an astounding job of performing various musical pieces. The Marine Band geared up, welcoming U. S. legislators, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Supreme Court Justices, and many other public servants. I was somewhat dismayed to hear the crowd boo former Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who, after all, did extend a gracious hand this week, congratulating “President Obama on his inauguration” and expressing his desire to “join the country in celebrating this American tradition.” On the flip side, however, the Clintons received perhaps the warmest reception of the dignitaries with the exception, of course, of the First Family.
The crowd moved into rapturous applause as they stepped out from the doorway to greet half a million cheers and twice that many clapping hands. My new-found friends and I shouted at the top of our lungs, unable to believe we were, in person, watching the President before us. The eagle had landed.
Even with performances throughout the ceremony from Kelly Clarkson, James Taylor, and Beyonce, the President was the star of the show. When he began his swearing-in, all but the protester in the tree silenced, and when the oath was complete, cheers of “Obama! Obama!” and “Four more years!” rattled down the Mall.
There was a real energy from the crowd, and I am not sure it translated to television. Aside from the partisan support and cheers, the massive sense of American pride, patriotism, and respect from the crowd was gratifying to see—and to be a part of.
As a political science student, I was especially elated to witness this majestic political process. But I felt this more as an American than as a political science student. I am a firm believer that, regardless of political affiliation, one can and should enjoy viewing our democracy in action, and I say that as part of a group of political science students who attended despite being split in their affiliations. This open-mindedness and openness to others is key to our political and social relations, and should be practiced by our legislators and other elected officials far more often.
We are in fact one nation, and as citizens of this nation we have the right to participate in processes unknown in parts of the globe. It is an extraordinary political system we have, and I am grateful to have shared in its unfolding this year, and I hope to participate again in 2017, irrespective of the outcome of the next election.