Today was a long yet exhilarating day. It started at around 7:00am when we woke up and boarded the Metro downtown to catch the inauguration. We had purple tickets allowing us onto the Capitol grounds, but alas, the purple line was mishandled horribly, and we didn’t actually get in. Frustration was running high in the crowd, but when noon came around, the mood quickly improved, and when the oath was said and the cannon fire commenced, a cry of jubilation emerged from the crowd. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t doing my part with that.
Up next was the inaugural speech, and luckily, my dad brought a portable RadioShack radio. An impromptu group of listeners surrounded us as Obama gave his inauguration speech, eager for any sort of live broadcast in the land-of-no-Jumbotrons. Our small huddled mass, and the others just like it around similar devices, was a microcosm of the Obama movement itself. We had people of all ages and colors: two white teen-aged girls, some middle-aged African-American women, an older ex-hippie couple, and others. At least of the listeners were crying at some point in the speech. After it was over, several people profusely thanked my dad for sharing the experience.
That’s the memory I’m always going to keep from this event. Yes, we didn’t get to use our tickets, but it was amazing all the same. I would not have had the same shared experience sitting at home watching it on the television. Afterward, we headed over to the parade route and stood in the freezing cold until Obama and Biden drove by. Then we departed, navigating the mess of a city completely swamped by its most massive event ever.
There was one particular point in Obama’s speech that really surprised and impressed me. When I heard it, I almost thought I had misheard it, and I looked at my dad for confirmation. He seemed genuinely surprised as well. Yet here it is in the transcript:
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
How far we’ve come in these two short decades since George Bush Sr. uttered this infamous statement: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
Now that’s change we non-believers can believe in.