Friday, January 20, 2017

Remembering Obama's Inauguration Day: Philadelphia 2009

It was my good fortune that, after a lifetime in Kansas, I found myself living in Philadelphia during the summer of 2008 — as it happens, working in an office one floor down from Barack Obama's campaign headquarters in the city. And one day late in the election, I rode the press bus as it joined the then-Senator on a whirlwind four-stop campaign swing through the city — culminating with a final rally in fabled West Philadelphia.

Obama himself wasn't too memorable. He gave the same speech, told the same jokes at every stop, the message modified slightly for each audience. ("Don't let them give you the okey doke," he warned the largely black audiences.)

What I remember about the West Philadelphia stop: It was the most black people I'd ever seen in one place at one time — probably the most I'll ever see again. And the mood, it bordered on religious. Not that these folks worshipped Obama, no. It's just at this point in the campaign, so much hope was vested in him — the maybe, through him, they were finally being welcomed into full citizenship in America.

I'm so lucky to have been there, to have seen it with my own eyes.

On Election Night, I walked home through Center City Philadelphia with the sounds of celebration emanating from every location on my path.

And on Inauguration Day, I went to work as usual. One of my coworkers went down to Independence Hall to watch the inauguration the big screen. You can see her in this video made by friend Jim MacMillan. She'd been through Jim Crow, lived it, told me about it as she discussed her happiness at Obama's election. So the joy you see on her face this moment — it's real. It's one of the most real things I've ever known.

I don't know what's coming. I'm scared. But this is a good memory. It is history. And it was my privilege to witness it.

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