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Barack Obama's inauguration: One Lesbian's Experience

Relection on Obama the New President and What it Means for LGBT & Our Country

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Crowd on Inauguration Day

Crowd on Inauguration Day

© Cheril N. Clarke
I had never struggled with making a decision they way I struggled on Monday, January 19, 2009. It was Martin Luther King Day and it was the day before the much anticipated inauguration of America’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. I am not an adventure seeker. I do not like crowds and I do not like even the thought of standing in sub-freezing temperatures for hours. But something inside me would not let me rest. It would not let me—living within driving distance and having multiple siblings with whom my wife and I could stay with—sit at home and watch this moment on television without being a physical part of it. There was just something unsettling about such a passive attitude on a historic day.

The swearing-in of Barack Obama was a moment that many have waited generations for, worked tirelessly for—fought and died for. How could I, a black woman of mixed heritage, yet one who knows only the American experience, not be a part of it? I asked myself, “If you had the opportunity to hear Martin Luther King Jr., speak, would you go?” My answer was yes and my wife felt the same. The decision was made. By this time, however, it was already 1:00 in the afternoon and too late for me to request a half day at work. We ended up leaving New Jersey around 7:30 pm and arriving at my sister’s house in Maryland around 10:00 pm. Remnants of a Barack Obama party were in the kitchen, including a piece of cake with his face on it. Everyone was excited.

We eventually took a two hour nap and got up in the pre-dawn hours to make our way to the New Carrollton Metro Station. There were eight of us, four were friends from California. When we arrived at the train station the line was already a mile long, perhaps longer, and the first train was not due for another 30 minutes—at 4:00 am. An intense desire and hunger for change fused with expectation, filling the air. Excitement and positive energy blanketed the thousands of people patiently waiting in a line that snaked to the back of the parking lot. We were the very embodiment of hope along with the millions who had yet to awaken but would later watch on televisions, the Internet and listen on radios. It was the beginning of a long, powerful day.

In Washington, DC on Inauguration Day

Despite the freezing temperatures, the Mall quickly filled with thousands of people from all over the country. They were singing, shuffling to keep warm, some wrapped in blankets, crouching in chairs or cocooned in sleeping bags, trying to conserve their body heat and energy for the main event. When the first flicker from the jumbo-trons appeared the crowed went wild. In red, white and blue read, “The 56th Presidential Inauguration.” By the time the sun began to creep into the sky it seemed to get quiet again—or at least it was going back and forth between cheers and silent moments of reflection.

In my quiet moments of reflection I tried to grasp what it all meant. Alongside amazement were questions. What will this translate into? What will this mean for our economy, for our foreign relations, for our domestic problems? What will this mean for the LGBT community seeking equality and fairness in the workplace, protection from hate crimes and the right to marry? What will this mean for our healthcare system, public health—the fight against HIV/AIDS and the battle to lower the amount of unwanted pregnancies? What does this mean in regards to America’s vulnerability to terrorists? Will Barack Obama, the man with the Audacity of Hope, be able to successfully take on the Political Machine? Will he have the true power to make good on at least some of his promises? I hoped so.

My questions eventually segued back into not just hope, but hope backed by courage because hope alone cannot bring about change. Hope is just the medicine we need to get up and get out into some action. President Obama alone cannot bring about change. We the people must bring about change. And that is what I love most about our new president. He inspires action. He encourages selflessness, he insists that we help those who cannot help themselves and not do so grudgingly but willingly and cheerfully because it is the right thing to do. It does not matter your race, religion (or lack thereof). You don’t need an excuse to help another without expecting repayment. Just do it. Although my wife and I give to charity on a regular basis and do service projects from time to time he reminds me that we can do more. I’m moved to do more.

The Inauguration Ceremony

The inauguration was all I thought it would be and so much more. A week has passed and I’m still buzzing with excitement, knowing that I would have surely regretted not going. I can only hope that the feeling lasts. I hope that people remain inspired to be active and not slump back into old patterns of only caring about themselves and their causes. After all, selfishness is an ailment of the soul that none of us need to succumb to. This is a new beginning, yet for me it circles back to the old saying, “be the change you want to see.” I wish our new president good luck and am pledging to do my part to make the United States a more perfect union.
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