The first inauguration of President Barack Obama was a celebration of a dream fulfilled and foreseen by the Rev. Martin Luther King.
My wife Holly and I wanted to be present in person at the second inauguration because we knew that, however much the first Inauguration marked how far we’d come, the second inauguration would be about how far we hoped to go as a nation
We asked our Republican Representative in the U.S. Congress, Frank Wolf, if he had two tickets so that we could attend. Dan Scandling, the Congressman’s Chief of Staff, immediately responded, by return e-mail, that he had tickets for us. We thanked the Congressman and his staff. No doubt many others thanked him as well for the opportunity to attend a Presidential Inauguration. The president described why we gather to inaugurate a president. It is because thereby “we bear witness to the enduring strength of our constitution” and “affirm the promise of our democracy.”
We traveled from Lovettsville to a Dulles parking lot to join others from as far away as Texas to ride downtown in a rented van. We were there bundled up in the dark chilly morning air at 5 a.m. We didn’t know then there would be 800,000 people attending. We only knew that DC had to be secure and difficult to navigate.
When we crossed the bridge from Virginia, we found Humvees blocking off ramps and roads, saw many rotating blue lights, and National Guard troops and police handling traffic and pedestrians and explaining how best and where to go.
The streets were almost empty in a yellowish glow of street lamps. When we came upon a coffee shop at about 10th Street near the mall, it seemed everyone was in there and no one was outside. And it was warm. We stood shoulder to shoulder with visitors from across the nation, from California to New York, from Washington to Florida, and uniformed officers from Maryland and DC, talking about when they arrived and their duty assignments.
The atmosphere was helpful and friendly like we were all going to a fine party. Soon we found the crowds massing at the entry points to the mall and we walked further up toward Union Station as our space was on the West Side of the Capitol — where we would be able to see and hear the president. There were pearls and mink, Sunday clothes, hawkers selling memorabilia.
At 7 a.m., the gates opened and, although we would stand or sit in the cold until 11:30 a.m. before the scheduled events were underway, the time flew by talking to people who traveled great distances or just walked across town.
When the president finally spoke and said “what makes us American … is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago,” there was a cheer that rolled from the Lincoln Memorial, where the Rev. King once spoke to the West face of the Capitol where President Obama was now speaking.
He repeated how, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and he said that this day we “continue[d] a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.” He said that, “history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.” With this, there was more applause. As I looked around the eyes were on the president. Tears flowed down the faces of men and women. Small children asked to be lifted to see their president.
The president pledged that “together” we are resolved to “care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” He asked the crowd and the nation watching to “do these things together, as one nation and one people.” There was enthusiastic applause.
He asked the crowd to remember “who left footprints along this great Mall” where we were assembled for the Inauguration, and who heard “a preacher say that we cannot walk alone,” and who came before “to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.”
When it was done and the crowd moved to the parade route or to eat or to busses or cars to leave, strangers spoke to each other about what they’d seen and heard, enthused for the nation, and its future.
Ringing in their ears were the President’s words that each of us has “the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient and enduring ideals.”
John P. Flannery