Obama's second inaugural — a last grasp at history - Macleans.ca

Obama’s second inaugural — a last grasp at history

Americans descend on Washington to witness ‘joy of a new beginning’ (again)


The second inauguration of Barack Obama lacks the historical drama of four years ago when he became the first African American to take the presidential oath. But to the hundreds of thousands of Americans descending on Washington, DC, it is still a piece of history they want to see with their own eyes.

Renee Walker-Richard, a 50-year-old realtor from Houston, Texas, explains: “We will not be getting another black president any time soon.”

Walker-Richard, who is African American, has shelled out several thousand dollars on the inauguration. That includes roughly $1,000 on tickets to several black-tie balls — including the Texas State Society’s “Black Tie and Boots Ball,” one of the official events the Obamas will attend. On top of the tickets, there was airfare, car rental fees and a hard-to-find and over-priced hotel room. Since arriving in Washington, she’s stood in lines, and more lines, only to be sent to other lines, to collect  various tickets.

It’s worth the hassle, she says.

Like many visitors cramming the subways and streets of the city, Walker-Richard did not attend Obama’s first inauguration. She’s here now since the constitutional two-term limit dictates that it will be his last.

“I wanted to make sure that in my lifetime I would see it happen,” she says.

In January 2009 the atmosphere was electric and carnival-like with revelers bedecked in Obama gear from hats and socks to earrings bearing the president’s face. Once the ceremony began, it leavened with solemnity and an almost spiritual reverence as civil rights leaders and preachers flanked the president-elect, who had so eloquently preached national racial healing. Rev. Richard Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., gave a memorable benediction “in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest,” a reference to the many Americans who dedicated their lives to civil rights and racial equality. Almost two million people stretched across the National Mall, and around the Reflecting Pool where in 1963 King delivered his “I have a Dream” speech, whose challenge to his countrymen seemed to be realized on the dais in front of the Capitol. Lowery spoke of  “the joy of a new beginning” and prayed, to laughter in the audience, for “that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

In 2013, the excitement of turning the page on the Bush years has been replaced by colder realities of promises only partially kept. The celebrity worship has dimmed. The electricity and idealism of that moment has been replaced by an almost nostalgic desire to come and witness before it’s too late. Reflecting on the past four years, Walker-Richard says Obama didn’t solve every problem but did his best under the circumstances.

She’s not here because of his policies, but rather out of a sense of duty. “We owe it to him as black people and minorities,” she said, though hastened to add, “but he is a president for all the people.”

If she chances to encounter the president at the official inaugural ball (“I pray so!”), she knows what she’ll say: “I would say, I believe in you. This is your time to make something happen.”

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