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Asides

“Inaugural Memories” of An Obama Volunteer

Telling Thoughts

A few weeks ago I invited a dedicated Obama campaign volunteer from North Carolina (a lady who prefers to remain anonymous) to consider recording her feelings and memories following her much anticipated sojourn to Washington DC for the inauguration of her country’s 44th President. 

My thanks go to her for this fine contribution,

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These are her own words ..

“At last I was there, standing on the National Mall – the one place I wanted to be on 20th January 2009. 

My journey had begun 1640 days earlier, when Barack Obama’s Keynote Address electrified not only the delegates of the 2004 Democratic National Convention but also the millions watching on  television. 

Realizing that finally a politician was saying exactly what for decades I had longed to hear, I told my companions:  “Someday he will run for the presidency of the United States – and when he does, I shall work for him and support him.” 

The final three hours of my long journey, waiting in subfreezing temperatures to enter the Mall, seemed agonizingly long.  As a large crowd of us huddled at our assigned “gate” to pass through security, I was anxious that it might close before I could reach it.  But I made it. I claimed my one square foot of the Mall.

To enter the Mall amidst the jubilation that was already at full throttle was breathtaking.  Still, the gathering had all the hallmarks of an Obama rally, albeit the largest yet:  extraordinary courtesy, friendliness, enthusiasm and camaraderie born of a strong sense of unity for “our guy.” What differed was that all of this seemed magnified far beyond what I could ever have imagined. 

The excitement and enthusiasm of the huge crowd, later estimated at 1.8 million, overflowed in a tidal wave of emotion which at times was overwhelming. Although the Inaugural ceremony was still an hour away, the sight  of someone dabbing furtively at tears while smiling broadly seemed perfectly natural.  There were groups whose members obviously knew each other well.  Others had formed simply because they felt compelled to share the excitement and anticipation with anyone near enough to be heard over the din.  Several of us had chatted with each other as we waited to clear security.  Now, introductions proceeded all around.  Since most of us had been volunteers for Obama, we shared our campaign experiences, a bit surprised that what we may have regarded as unique to our corner of the USA in fact had no geographical boundaries. 

Although the small size of bags we were allowed to bring onto the Mall prevented our bringing along much in the way of food, what we had was shared with the others.  We ignored the images flickering on the Jumbotrons – time enough for those when things began to happen on the Inaugural platform of the Capitol. Other groups somehow found or made room for dancing. Others sang patriotic songs, including “This land is my land,” no doubt a holdover from Sunday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Children scampered among adults, who were confident the youngsters were safe. On this day of days, there were no strangers. 

Frequently, chants arose:  “O-BAM-a! O-BAM-a!” Or, “YES WE CAN!” to which an antiphonal “YES WE WILL!” echoed from elsewhere in that sea of humanity.  Sometimes, isolated shouts and cheers erupted from throats that would not be suppressed.  Cheers – not for a candidate this time, but for our next President.  Cheers for the hopes that had bound us and that now were about to become reality.  The mood was that of a gigantic festival.  If anyone had chided us for being so giddy and emotional, we would have answered, “Yes – and why not?”

A young couple from Nevada and I discovered that we had at least two things in common.  First, we came from states that the GOP had assumed would be theirs for the taking in the Presidential election.  We recounted our early days of volunteering in GOP territory (difficult and often discouraging).  But Obama had carried both of our states in November.  Second, the same Obama field organizer had trained and coached us.  In North Carolina’s Primary campaign, he had shaped a strong, committed cadre of volunteers in my county.  During the Presidential campaign, he had worked in several western states, including Nevada.  We knew he had to be somewhere in that vast crowd.  We wondered why had we not thought to get in touch with him so we could celebrate together?

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Discussion

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing! Am wondering who your “trainer” was. Two of ours (Alaska) were Chris Farrell and Andrew Gall. I know they went from our state to help in other states. Just curious. Again, thank you – and lucky you – to be able to be there in person.

    Posted by Karolynn | January 25, 2009, 8:58 am
  2. It’s been exactly a year since our grassroots effort first met at the Elkins Perk coffee shop in Montgomery County, PA. We shared our enthusiasms and got fired up! We raised eyebrows and awareness with our Obama swag and sold Hot Choc-O-bama at the train station. We got a great campaign office right down the road. The Baederwood Office welcomed every single person who walked in that door. We called strangers and rang doorbells and entered data. As a big swing state our counties fought the toughest fights, with Hillary coming down so hard then McCain throwing the kitchen sink and even Sarah Palin on us. We did not fall apart. We only grew stronger and more and more people wanted to be a part of our positivity. How cool is it that Obama knew he won when they called Pennsylvania at 8:01 November 4, 2008? So cool!

    We listened to our leader, then each other at Jay Cooke Hall then our better angels when we gave so much food and even our blood in our month long civic engagement projects.

    We believed in change, we worked for change and we were changed in the process. We have new friends, we have wonderful memories and we can always know that we stepped up to support a once in a lifetime leader when he needed it most. Thanks.

    Moving forward into our future, here’s look back on that catalyst email from last year.

    Cheers!

    Tricia

    Sender: Katie
    Subject: Re:Come Together
    Received: 1/23/08 6:48PM
    Hi Trisha; I’m free Friday AM and am just down the street. What time? Katie Maher
    ———-
    In Reply to:
    Hello,
    I want to propose to my Obama friends the idea of hosting regular weekly, monthly and yearly meetings in our favorite local coffee spots. It would set the foundation for real change on the community level and help us all get through this brutal primary. When (and if) Barack becomes president, he’ll have groups all over who are willing to do what it takes to improve the present day.
    We need to have more to offer than petitions and holding signs. We need to have a functioning community of fellow believers to forward any kind of movement.
    I live in Elkins Park and my coffee shop is the Elkins Perk, near the train station. Anyone free this Friday 1/25 AM?

    Posted by Tricia | January 25, 2009, 9:17 am
  3. For those of us who volunteered for Obama but could not go to WA. DC. for the Inauguaration, stories likes this are so wonderful to read. Thank you for putting it up John. I do appreciate the author for recounting her experience for us also. I watched every minute on TV, MSNBC and CSPAN, both did a great job covering it I think, capturing the excitement, comradarie, and also the historic nature of the day.

    Posted by Karen Chapman | January 25, 2009, 11:00 pm
  4. Wow!!!!!!!! Great story. Thanks for sharing!

    I was also at the Inauguration. What a magnificent and worthwhile journey it has been and will continue to be for me, as I work toward renewing America through grassroots organizing.

    From a NC Volunteer turned Staffer and Grassroots Organizer

    Posted by Connie Russell | January 26, 2009, 3:30 am
  5. Not when a relationship.

    Posted by great post | August 9, 2013, 2:49 am