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Inauguration blog: Best of Humanity Part 2

Inauguration blog: Best of Humanity Part 2


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Estimated read time: 22-23 minutes

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Lindsay Martin Stephens is a Utah resident and avid supporter of President-elect Barack Obama. She and two friends traveled back east to experience Obama's inauguration first hand. She blogs exclusively for KSl.com about her experiences.Jan. 20 9:15 p.m.To the west of the Capitol building we finally came to the line for people with yellow tickets. The error we made with our planned route to avoid congestion had set us back quite a bit, and we were anything but first in line. In fact, there were about 200 people in front of us, and we came to terms that it may mean we would end up in a corner of our ticketed area where views where somewhat obstructed.

Amy, Joy, Katie and I took our place in line and began another 2 hour wait in the cold. A text message from Barack let us know that the temperature was not 25 degrees as we had estimated, but was actually 12 degrees with wind chill. The day would be cold and long, but we were ready, and we knew we could do it. We had already overcome a morning of unexpected obstacles and there would be no limits to our inaugural experience today. Katie and I ran around the block a few times to warm up. It was fleeting. We met a couple of families in line from Salt Lake City and exchanged stories and travelogues of our D.C. adventures.

At 8:00 AM the gates opened and we were escorted through security screenings. By the time we reached our seats, our tickets had been checked and verified nearly 10 times. When we finally found our seats, we squealed again with excitement as we realized the proximity of our place to all the action. We celebrated with our "Obama dance" - something that was the result of days and days spent waiting in lines, in the freezing cold. It was meant to keep us warm, and made us laugh at ourselves when there were endless amounts of time with nothing to do. We were in great spirits.

So once at our seats, we met several more families from Salt Lake City. Rebecca England and I began chatting when we realized we both had the same camera equipment. Further conversation revealed that she and I are both taking the same photography class next week. As it turns out we have a lot in common. How funny that I came all the way to Washington D.C. and found a new friend from Salt Lake City in the crowd. I have to say hello to her family- her husband Jordan Kimball and her daughter Ellie Kimball who attends Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City. To Ellie's teachers back in Utah, she should definitely get extra-credit at school for attending this event. She was a trooper.

We were nearly popsicles by the time the ceremony started at 11:30. All the dignitaries were announced, senators, congressmen, Obama's cabinet, the former and future first and second families. We cheered extra loud for Senator Bennett when he arrived as part of the inaugural committee. He was the one who provided us with tickets to our up-close experience of history in the making.

We watched as they all filed in one by one. Something that impressed us- even when very unpopular politicians arrived (ie; George W. Bush), there was very little negative feedback from the audience. On the rare occasion that it was heard, ten people would call back "Don't be rude- we've got to be Obama-like." There were so many "please" and "thank yous," and random acts of generosity. During our long and painful wait in the cold we found people everywhere sharing food, blankets and hand warmers. There was a great feeling of respect, humility and reverence for this peaceful transfer of power that was about to take place. At the same time, everyone was feeling excitement and pure joy.

The crowds roared when the Obama family was announced and broke out into spontaneous chanting of "Yes We Can." After an invocation by Rick Warren, the swearing in ceremonies began.

First Joe Biden, and then Barack Obama came to the podium and began reciting that "sacred oath." We were unaware of any mix-ups that occurred until we watched the news tonight. All we heard was Obama repeat the words we all expected to hear. More eruptions of cheering and chanting of "Yes We Can." An estimated 1.2 million people erupted into cheers. Friends, family and strangers embraced and cried tears of joy for what just happened.

When President Obama approached the podium to deliver his speech, the entire city went silent. You could hear nothing but the sound of his voice echoing through the streets. It was as if the world was collectively holding its breath and hanging on to every word of hope President Obama might offer. His speech was so current and offered great encouragement and optimism for all.

There are many things I could say about his speech, but overall what resonated with me throughout the day was this; Obama inspires the best in humanity. Each line he delivered spoke to looking outside ourselves to serve someone else, to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and cooperate in doing so. And he didn't just mean here in the United States, he set a new precedent to take this globally.

After the benediction and blessing on the new President, the crowds very quietly and calmly departed. The city was hushed. Deciding to take our chances at Union Station, we headed that direction to depart the city. We had just attended the biggest party in the world, and the guests were nearly silent. Were we all quietly reflecting on the hopeful words of Obama's inaugural address? Were we already inspired to be better as a people, less selfish, more helpful and more neighborly to those around us? Were we already wondering if we could act this way each day of our lives?

At every turn as we departed the city, we saw overwhelming evidence that said, "Yes. We Can."

To the readers of this inaugural blog; thanks! This was a great way to journal an experience I never want to forget.

Jan. 20, 8:10 p.m.

"Don't worry baby girl. You've got tickets and you'll get in. It's gonna be a beautiful day," said the inaugural security guard. It was 4:30 AM on Tuesday, January 20th and we were at the perimeter of the mall in Washington, D.C. - and already behind schedule.

We woke up at 1:30 a.m. to leave our hotel and get to the train station. We were prepared to spend some time sleeping in the car until the gates opened at 4 a.m.. Even though we had bought our train tickets the day before, we wanted to be first on the train into downtown, and first in line for our ticketed section at the Capitol. That's not at all what happened.

As we exited the interstate, Joy slammed on the brakes as we rounded the bend to avoid hitting the car in front of us. As we came to a stop, our jaws dropped as we saw our first inaugural setback. It was only 2:30 in the morning and the cars were backed up to the interstate to get into the train station.

There were at least 100 people in line waiting at the gates already. Eventually we got ourselves into the city, exited the train station and started making our way across the mall, in near total darkness.

We were about to cross on to the Capitol grounds at Madison and Third Street when we realized the mall was barricaded for security. Guards gave directions to get around the gates, but every new instruction brought us to a dead end.

At 4:45 a.m. there was suddenly a mass of thousands that seemingly came out of nowhere, waiting to get in to an area that was completely vacant and accessible just minutes before. They couldn't come in, and we couldn't go out. Every request for help was denied. Cops were unsympathetic (they were just doing their job) and we felt like caged animals.

And then the cage broke.

The hoards of people waiting to get into the mall were all at once released and began pouring in to find their standing place for the inauguration. We climbed on top of a concrete wall to get out of the way, but there seemed to be no way through the masses until an officer grabbed me by the hand and pulled us through the crowd, linked arm in arm. Minutes later, when we finally made it across the crowd of thousands, I threw my arms around the officer and thanked him for his voluntary kindness.

Thrilling! We had survived our second inaugural set-back. The next hour was spent roaming the streets trying to find anyone who knew how we could get to our yellow ticket section. Lines had formed stretching for blocks to get in to standing areas.

In defense of the inaugural committee, we received instruction to go to the Union Station as the most convenient access point to our area, but after our experience there on Monday, we decided to avoid it.

Our good fortune finally came when we met the security guard that calmed our fears of missing the inauguration altogether. "Baby girl just take this tunnel under the mall and you're there."

We thanked him for his happy and helpful attitude and went on our way. It was only 6 o'clock in the morning and despite our false starts and set-backs, we had experienced kindness and humanity in a situation that could have easily been otherwise.

Jan. 19, 9:14 p.m.

Center of the Universe… that's where I was today. After a tour of George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon, we headed into the city to pick up the tickets for the inauguration. This was our first encounter in the city with the masses of people that are here. The line to purchase tickets for the Metro was at least an hour long. A woman towards the front of the line, Joan from O'ahu, Hawaii, volunteered to purchase tickets for us while she was buying hers, so that we wouldn't have to wait.

We offered to compensate her, but her response was simply, "I won't accept any money, but give it to someone who can use it." We were grateful for her Spirit of Aloha and went on our way. On our commute into the city, we met people from all walks of life. There was James Rogers from Liberia who offered to drive us around to find metro tickets to avoid the lines. We met Ben Hawley, a volunteer of the 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment, company B. He had just come from Obama's national day of service, and was dressed in full civil war uniform.

We met Chris Alis from Oregon, who was selling personal photographs of the President-Elect when he was a little known Senator from Illinois. He was selling his photographs to finance his trip.

Everyone has a deeply personal and fascinating story that brought them to this moment in history.

When we arrived in the city, we exited the Metro and took the escalator up to the street level of Union Station. What happened at the top of the escalator was unexpected and somewhat alarming, if only temporarily.

The crowd was so packed into Union Station we could not get off the escalator- the people in front of us weren't moving, but the people behind us didn't stop coming, and the steps kept disappearing in front of us leaving us with nowhere to go. We became human sardines in an instant. It was a situation that happened so suddenly there was no time to react. For a brief moment the situation was tense, and it would only be moments before someone was hurt in the chaos.

And then the crowd did something I've never seen before. People starting calling out to watch for the children that could easily be trampled, they put their arms around each other to move as a group, to be sure no one was left behind. There was communication and courtesy and politeness. Someone called out, "That's what this is all about… people coming together, working together in a spirit of cooperation."

Right now, a jaded KSL blog reader is rolling their eyes and doubting the validity of this statement. But what I'm writing is totally true.

There I was in one of my own personal nightmares, and the crowd began to work together to resolve the situation. A group of soldiers jumped up on concrete walls and began directing the masses. Within minutes they had the escalators to and from the metro blocked off so that the situation didn't become worse. When we finally emerged, there was a complete calmness with everyone, and we all went on our various paths.

What we saw was our "better angels."

Next we arrived at the Dirksen Building to pick up our Inaugural tickets. Once again, we encountered the masses and faced a long wait. A security guard came up and offered to take us through an "employees only" entrance. Within minutes we were in the building and standing at Senator Bennett's office.

When we opened the envelope with our names on it, we couldn't believe our eyes. Seated tickets! Not only do we have seats, but we have seats in a section that put us right up front with all the inaugural action and an up-close view of the swearing-in ceremony. There seems to be NO LIMITS with our luck this weekend. Our squeals and screams echoed throughout the halls of the Senate building. Senate staff Nicki Dittemore and Angela Chavez of Utah celebrated with us.

We rushed to the Capitol to see exactly where we would be. More squeals. More screams. We can't believe our luck. Leaving the Capitol, I received a phone call from the KSL morning show. They want to do an interview with me in the morning, and I'll be reporting live from my seat, waiting for the event to start.

We walked the length of the mall to experience the crowds, the newscasts (MSNBC was filming live), the vendors, the revelers, and to take in all the excitement. There were helicopters flying overhead constantly, tour buses lining the streets and sirens of passing police cars every few minutes. It was getting late, and the sun was setting, which made for some excellent photo opportunities.

Tonight we felt as if we were at the center of the universe. And even with all this commotion, the significance of what is about to happen tomorrow was not lost. This city is majestic.

Our evening ended with a fabulous meal at a French restaurant in the Morgan-Adams district, Napoleon Bistro. We dined on apples and brie, savory crepes and chocolate mousse, and toasted to an exciting day ahead of us tomorrow.

We're back at the hotel now, and it's time to get some sleep. It will be more like a nap though. The Metro opens at 2:30 AM and we'll be there when the gates open.

We're just hours away from the biggest event of our lifetime.

Jan. 19, 7:45 a.m.

Sunday was a day of rest for us. Originally we had planned to be up at an insanely early hour again to go stand in line to attend the welcoming inaugural event at the Lincoln Memorial that wouldn't start until 2:30 PM. But our experience with Obama at the Delaware Whistle stop tour was intimate, and we felt like attending a haute Hollywood event was not what our admiration or enthusiasm for Obama was about.

Besides, we had withstood 9 hours of temperatures and conditions that would "test the insulation of a penguin" as one reporter wrote.

We needed to refuel and recharge for the next two days that would certainly test our endurance. There would be NO LIMITS to our inaugural experience.

With a whole day of down time, we found ourselves scanning popular foodie websites such as urbanspoon.com and chowhound.com to find the best places to eat while in the city on Monday and Tuesday. This led us to a number of posts on these websites about the Obama's favorite foods and also what would be served at the Inaugural luncheon. We laughed at ourselves as we entertained ideas of making an inaugural dinner on Sunday night with the recipes that would be made for the Obamas. In the end, because we love food, and we love the Obamas, that's exactly what we ended up doing.

On the menu- Herbed roasted chicken (or faux pheasant as we called it) with wild rice stuffing, molasses whipped sweet potatoes, roasted winter vegetables and cinnamon apple sponge cake for dessert.

We thought the recipes were simple, straight forward and perfect for a man commonly referred to as "No Drama Obama".

It's now 6:52 on Monday morning and we are half way to Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington on the banks of the Potomac River.

We've spent plenty of time in the car at this point, and mostly in the dark. It's barely beginning to get light outside. We're listening to NPR and the 16 year-old Katie Egbert traveling with us has run out of steam. She's asleep in the back seat after another rousing monologue about defending her more liberal political views at a very conservative high school in the reddest state in the country. My sister, Amy Martin Rahm, flew in last night from Wisconsin and this is her first trip as an adult to our nation's capitol.

Amy and I are close sisters. In fact, even though she is two years older than I, we've always felt like twins. This election tested our ability to "agree without being disagreeable". I was visiting at her house the weekend before the election. The conversations at times became tense when we found ourselves disagreeing on some of the most important social issues of our time. Her decision to vote for Obama came down to the way he organized and ran his campaign, mobilized the common people, maintained a high level of dignity and displayed the leadership qualities this nation needed when the reality of our economic crisis came to realization- and she decided just the day before the election that she would vote for him. Of Obama she says, "I don't think we've seen a president care so much about the people. It's not about a campaign; it's about a better way of life."

Next stop- Mount Vernon. We have tickets for a National Treasure tour at 9:30 AM. They are opening up the parts of the Estate that are usually off-limits to the public. It's as interesting as any Smithsonian exhibit we'd see and hopefully a lot less crowded. At least we were able to buy tickets in advance. After the tour there, we'll be picking up our Inaugural tickets at Senator Bennett's office.

We hope to get in to the National Archives this afternoon, make a stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, and do some random acts of kindness on this National Day of Service- in the spirit of YES WE CAN.

We've just arrived in Alexandria and we're an hour early for the tour. Traffic was a breeze, perhaps due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and locals wanting to avoid the mess. We've stopped at "Bread & Chocolate"- a cute European bakery in downtown Alexandria for breakfast. When we walked in we were greeted with many Obama sweets and confections to choose from. Bon Appétit! Jan. 18, 10:57 p.m.

The first question people usually ask me when they learn I'm attending the Inauguration is, "How did you get a hotel room?" When I tell them I made the reservation in June, the second question asked is, "How did you know Barack Obama was going to win?"

For that, you have to go back nearly two years, to a cold Saturday morning in February 2007. I flipped on the television in my kitchen and saw a Senator from Illinois giving a speech "in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together".

He spoke about the nation coming together, united in purpose. He spoke about impossible odds, and how people who love their country can change it to make a better place for all. He spoke about what Abraham Lincoln understood; that despite doubts and setbacks, through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free people. He spoke about the genius of our founding fathers, and the system of government they designed that can be changed. He called on everyone to be "that generation" that brings change to America. And he reminded us that it was not about him as a candidate, but about us as a nation.

The references of our nation's history as a guide from where we have come from to where we need to go, spoke directly to me. Having long studied American history, this Senator appealed to my love for this country and my reverence for its founding. Never had I heard a "politician" speak so poignantly or so simply about the needs of this nation and the power we all have to make a change.

After the speech ended, I went to my neighborhood bookstore and bought "The Audacity of Hope". I read it and began discussing the idea of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate for 2008 to anyone who was interested. Throughout 2007 and most of 2008, most people gave little credibility to the idea. The most common response I received was "he won't even make it to the primaries". To which always replied, "just watch".

For the last two years, I have campaigned, tracked every political maneuver, watched debates and annoyed my friends, family and co-workers with endless chatter about the "audacity" of this candidate. And throughout the process, I held on to that hope for a leader that could "bring change to America".

The morning after the election, I contacted every representative from the state of Utah to request Inaugural tickets. In mid-December, I received a letter from Senator Bennett's office informing me that the request had been granted.

I left Salt Lake City on Friday, January 16th with a friend and flew to Philadelphia to meet another long-time friend, and also my sister who would attend the inauguration with me. Just a few hours after arriving, we got up at 2:30 AM on Saturday, January 17th to drive to Wilmington, Delaware to attend this historical occasion on the Whistle Stop tour.

The temperature on the thermostat was 1 degree when we began our drive. We arrived by 3:45 AM and waited to form a line until other supporters began arriving. We started a line with only a handful of people, other Pennsylvanians, for the next couple of hours. Most of them had done this multiple times to meet him and shake his hand, and were successful.

Reporters from around the world were there and one from the United Kingdom interviewed my friend, Joy from Farmington, Utah. When asked about her support for Obama she said, "He's a very calm man who puts me at ease. He has such confidence in the American people to do great things. It makes me feel hopeful about my own life and the nation."

A reporter from the Washington Post interviewed my neighbor, Katie, who attends Olympus High School in Salt Lake City. The other supporters were so interested that we would travel "all the way from Utah". Some people even came up in the line to get their picture "with the girls from Utah. We took turns between waiting in line and warming up in the train station. Inside, there was a somewhat simple stage set for the arrival of the First and Second families, and the secret service was everywhere.

When the gates finally opened at 9:30 AM, the crowd had formed a line that wrapped twice around the block. After a security check, we were admitted in to the standing area to wait until 1:00 PM when Obama's train would arrive. We were on the front row, and we couldn't have been more excited. By now all of our extremities were numb so it didn't matter how cold it was, or how long we had waited. The energy of the crowd was electric. The music playing was from some of President-Elect Obama's favorite musical artists, such as Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and Lenny Kravitz…all songs about hope and change.

Right on time, Joe and Jill Biden were announced. They came on stage and Vice-President Elect Biden spoke to us. After a surprisingly short speech, he welcomed President-Elect Obama and Michelle to the stage. What I experienced in those first moments was completely unexpected. In my life, I have only experienced history by visiting locations of significance, or reading about it, and trying to imagine what it must have been like to be there. This was experiencing history first hand- and it was moving. The significance of the moment was tangible.

True to form, Obama spoke about the historical significance of Delaware in our nation's founding, as he did about the cities at his stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore. He related the struggles of our founding to the struggles we have today. He spoke about how ordinary people from all walks of life, unite in one purpose to accomplish something bigger and better than themselves.

Throughout his visit you could see the energy and excitement in Obama's smile. After his speech, he hugged his wife, Michelle, the Bidens, and started making his way off stage- toward the crowd. He made a motion as to warm up his hands to shake with everyone. The crowd went wild. He immersed himself into the throngs of people that were throwing themselves at him. He shook everyone's hand in reach, and continued until he was ushered back to the train car.

When he left, nearly eighteen thousand people had felt the power of hope and change conveyed in Barack Obama's message, and the obligation to do something with it. If a crowd of only eighteen thousand felt this momentous, what will the inauguration be like? Two days to go until the biggest event of our lifetime…let's hope for warmer temperatures. When we turned on the car, the thermostat read, "19 degrees" at 2:30 in the afternoon. Brrrr.

Lindsay Martin Stephens

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Lindsay Martin Stephens

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