Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Experience at the inauguration of Barak Obama

This post was guest written by my mother, Michele Bennett. I will return to post more after the envy-green fades & I can see enough to type again.

Hello My Friends and Family!

Through the serendipity of being related to a senator, I was able to score some tickets to the inauguration of our 44th president, Barak Obama. I realized that because I am currently living in this area, it was an opportunity that I might not have again and I should take advantage of this chance. Any inauguration is a moment in history, but this inauguration seemed like an especially pivotal moment, so I felt particularly compelled to make the effort to go.

For those of you who don’t live here in the area of Washington DC, let me tell you – IT IS COLD! There had been predictions of the largest numbers of people ever to attend an inauguration, of extreme cold temperatures and of snafus in an aging and overcrowded public transit system (while at the same time almost forcing us to use this aging system because cars were not allowed in the downtown core). I toyed with the idea of spending the night at the spa where I work, so that I could avoid the metro system and just walk to the ceremonies, but I don’t sleep well in my own bed. Sleeping on a massage table was unappealing in the extreme. So, I decided that I would sleep at home and brave the transit system with the masses. I went to REI the day before to obtain some cold weather gear. (I know, you are all exclaiming that I come from the snow belt and should already be outfitted for the cold, but alas, I am not. And, somewhere in my move from Utah to Washington DC, I lost my gloves.) My trip to REI was strange. REI originated in the pacific northwest, so those of us from the west think of REI as the ultimate store for outdoor gear – complete with a rainroom to test out your wet weather gear. Many people here have never heard of REI and the store here is very small. But, those that have discovered REI had cleaned it out of all things made for cold weather. There were no hand & foot warmers left, no long underwear, and two pair of boots, neither of which were my size. So, I left the store with some new gloves (complete with liners) a hat, some over-the-knee socks and a couple of probars (sustenance for the long wait inside a perimeter without food available), and grateful that I found that much.

I awoke to a weather report that said it was 9 degrees out and wouldn’t get much warmer when the sun came up. I do tend to be a little claustrophobic, so the thought of a crowded metro was a little daunting. I lay in bed at 5AM debating with myself. I could watch the ceremonies on TV. I didn’t really need to go out. It would be much warmer. For half an hour, this debate went around in my head. Finally, the argument that no one else in my family or circle of friends would be able to see this event won out and I dragged myself from my warm bed. I put on tights, long-johns, over-the-knee socks, pants, walking shoes, a sweater, a light quilted jacket, a heavy wool coat, a big scarf, a hat and gloves with liners and headed for the train. I felt like the small child in the movie “The Christmas Story” who is so bundled up that he can’t put his arms down. At 6:30 AM, the train was filled to capacity with a noisy group of cheerful and excited people all headed to watch history made. No one was sleeping. No one was complaining. All were grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the moment. When I arrived at Union Station, I headed toward the yellow security checkpoint. I had a yellow ticket and we were all assigned to our color-coded checkpoint. The line to get to the checkpoint was several blocks long but moved fairly well. With so many thousands of people moving through the line and all excited, we were all conversing with others in the line. I was standing near a young couple, just married talking about this – the first time they voted, their first time to witness an inauguration, their first time ever in Washington DC. It was so cold, but they had big furry parkas and were excited that they had tickets in the seated section. I began to inquire how they had been able to come by their tickets. The young man said “I’m an intern for Senator Bennett from Utah.” Turns out that they are from Logan and he is a senior at Utah State. What a small world it is. We shared some stories and the comraderie of the occasion. Once we were through the checkpoint, they went to their seats and I went toward mine. By the time we reached our seats, it was still only 10AM and we had over an hour before the ceremony started. I decided to take a few pictures. I went to a stairway to get higher to take some pictures, but since the only camera that I have is my cell phone, I got two pictures (attached to this email) before it wouldn’t work anymore (too many cell phones for towers to be able to handle all the service, so it just shut down). I headed back to my seat and realized that I had lost one of my gloves (yes – one of my newly purchased gloves – complete with liner). But, I still had one glove and the other hand stayed firmly in my pocket. We sat and visited with the people around us. Sitting in front of us was a cute family with two daughters, approximately 8 and 12. The 8-year-old was bouncy and happy to be there. The 12-year-old was not happy at all. For half an hour, she complained about the cold, about her parents forcing her to come out way too early, and that she wished that she were home. Her mother gently chided her about her complaining and her father tried to lighten things by taking pictures of the girls. He tried to get her to stop crying, saying that she wouldn’t want to be crying in the pictures, but she just explained that she would remember this as the “worst day of my life!” At one point, she turned around and looked at me, so I took the opening to say to her that someday – and in the not-too-distant future, she would be proud to brag to her friends and later to her children, that she was here at this particular event, whereupon, she gave me a very dirty look.

Then the ceremony began. Aretha sang – sort of underwhelming. Then Nancy Pelosi, who conducted the ceremonies, introduced the “esteemed senator from Utah, Robert Bennett.” I of course cheered. I was the only one who did so and realized that everyone around me was staring, wondering who was this strange woman cheering for some republican senator from Utah. But, hey! He’s family. One must cheer! Senator Bennett then introduced the supreme court justice who administered the oath of office to Joseph Biden. Then there was a quartet, a piano, a violin, (Itzak Perhlman) a clarinet and a cello (Yo Yo Ma)! I was astonished that any of them could make their fingers work – and work so well in the cold. They did and it was astoundingly beautiful. Then it was time for Barak Obama to take the oath of office. The reverence was palpable. It was like being in church. The oath is 35 words, uttered by every president since George Washington said them for the very first time. After he gave his oath, he gave his address to the nation. What a truly inspiring orator! He called us to service. I haven’t been LDS for a very long time, but one of the things that I truly admire about the religion of my heritage is that it is founded on the cornerstone of service. This man, whom we now have as our president, is defined by his affirmation that we all have the opportunity and the responsibility to be of service, whether it is the fireman who charges into a burning building or the parent who nurtures and teaches a child. He demonstrated that impetus the day before his inauguration by spending the day in service. His wife was at a soup kitchen handing out meals and he was in his jeans and tennis shoes at a teen shelter, chatting with homeless and/or runaway teens while painting the shelter. One of the girls at the shelter made the comment that she hoped to be moving soon to a real house, and President Obama said “I’m moving tomorrow. It’s an old house.” So unassuming, yet so at ease in his ability to inspire – and he does inspire. He has inspired me and I have run into others who have never given a thought to volunteer for anything before, who are moved to volunteer, to do something – anything – to be of service to others.

I left the ceremony in a crowd of people as we sang the National Anthem together. We all felt moved and inspired. We all felt as if we are truly bound together by hope and common purpose. We returned to Union Station to make our way home again. At the station, we decided to find a little lunch. So had thousands of others. There was almost no place to sit, so we invited an older woman who appeared to be alone to sit with us. She told us her story. She came from Detroit on a bus with others from her church. They had no tickets. They were so far back in the crowd that they couldn’t see or hear anything. Yet, they still felt blessed to have been here to bear witness to this moment in history. There was another young woman here with her three small children – one a two-month-old baby, who came here from Texas. She also had no tickets, and couldn’t see or hear anything, but felt compelled to be here. There were so many like that, who came from far away, just to be here, just to share the moment with others.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King day. Dr. King said that he wished for his children that they be judged not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character. I saw that take shape today. I was here. I was witness to it. I am blessed for having participated.

I have attached two pictures – the only two that I was able to take before my phone shut down. But, you will get an idea of just how close I was. It was truly wonderful!

Love and cheer to you all from Washington DC


  1. Thats just awesome that you were there. You witnessed history.

  2. Thank you, for such a vivid picture of the inaugural day. Cold, but incredible! Only one small correction...the woman "conducting" was Senator Feinstein (D-CA) She served as the chair of the Inauguration committee and Senator Bennett (R-UT), ranking member of the Rules and Administration committee, served on the committee as well. Later, at the lunch, Senator Bennett and Joyce escorted Vice President Biden, and his wife, to their seats and joined them at the head table. It was such fun to see them! Dad and I are grateful for our opportunity to attend an inauguration ceremony those many years ago. I'll never forget it!
    (Grandma Jan)

  3. I'm really glad that I got to watch this with our family. It was a fun and defining moment in history. It was awesome to actually see what we had been visualizing during the campaign. Obama getting sworn in as President of the USA. I loved his speech, and I agree, it's time for us to take action to make this country great again.