I was in DC because I had to be there. I don't know about anyone else, but this inauguration was a personal victory for me. Over the past year, whenever I blew out candles, when a clock turned 11:11, when my taxi cruised past a yellow light, I wished for Barack Obama's presidency.
I flew here on a plane packed with people who had spent much of the flight staring out the window like me, eager to witness Obama's milestone. Not our country's milestone. Obama's. Perhaps because we perceived his victory as a long shot, we all somehow convinced ourselves that the involvement of each and every one of us was indispensable to the man's success. And we were equally convinced that he somehow knew that it was each and every one of us that got him here.
Whether it was wearing "O" buttons, donating money, cold calling undecided voters or trying to convince Republicans at a late night bar just this once to take a chance on the other party's candidate, we willed this victory to happen. And on Tuesday morning, two million of us had to see it with our own eyes. Despite the distance, the toe-numbing cold and the terrifyingly dense crowd, we had to be there, just as we would have had to be there for our own son's graduation. It wouldn't have been as special for him without us.
The inauguration was the first time I understood why crowds make people nervous. A teenage girl was pushing against my right arm, her friend's handbag leaned into my lower back, the friend herself was burrowed in my upper back, and the woman to my right was spooning me. All of us were wearing big fluffy jackets so we were pretty well padded, but it still crossed my mind that my fingers might break, lodged as they were between my hips and the single bench that happened to be sitting in the middle of our particular patch of gridlock.
Three elderly black women were sitting on this bench as well, wearing black coats, fleece hats, animal print scarves, and very dark sunglasses. They had come from Mississippi and as they told some of the pushier people in the crowd, they had been sitting there since dawn.
Those of us who found ourselves squeezed around these women could just make out the corner of a JumboTron in the distance. When Sasha Obama came onto the screen the woman spooning me, who had come to DC from Orlando, Florida said, "There's Sasha," and one of the women sitting on the bench said, "What is she wearing?"
"What kind of pink? Mauve?"
"No, it's more like a hot pink."
"Mmm." The woman on the bench nodded. "Sasha loves pink."
A moment later, a tall man in a ski hat stood in front of the bench for a moment too long.
"Get out of the way!" the woman on the bench yelled. "I'm trying to see my babies."
When Michelle Obama came on the JumboTron, the woman spooning me squealed "Ooh, it's Michelle!"
"How does her hair look?" The woman on the bench had taken out a sandwich bag of homemade trail mix and was offering it to all of us.
"It looks good."
The loudspeakers had a terrible echo that made it almost impossible to make out what the people on the Capitol steps were saying, but every so often a man standing nearby from Chicago would lean over and tell us, "They're introducing Rick Warren. He's giving the invocation." Or "John Roberts is swearing him in. He's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court." He was somehow able to hear through the rumble.
Between all of us, even though we couldn't actually hear or see anything, we knew how everyone on that stage looked and the gist of what they were saying.
It turns out that Barack Obama's inauguration was not my personal victory. Some people had arrived hours earlier that day, others had been involved in his political career for years, and others still had more of an emotional connection to this event than I could ever imagine. Obama belonged to all of us. But under a gray blue sky, crushed between the Washington Monument and the porta potties, nearly frostbitten and essentially immobilized, for a few freezing hours we all also belonged to each other.