Change: The Inauguration

First hand observations in Washington, DC

Arriving in DC on Friday before the Tuesday Inauguration we had no idea what to expect. The days leading up to the big event left mixed messages. Our excitement was building that we may be witnessing some pretty historic things as the big day approached.

We met many people with very interesting stories. We now have new friend in a junior high principal from the Bronx borough in New York. As we visited with this middle school principal and her mother and son talking about everything from our children to comparing the subways between NY and DC I noticed that our different races were just not an issue. In retrospect I believe this is exactly the type of relationship Dr. King spoke of in his great address. He wasn’t looking for change in American government – he just wanted America to become color blind. In the end we exchanged eMail’s so that we could continue this friendship and exchange pictures.

Another new friend from Toronto, Ontario told us about her family’s adventure to get to DC – which was not dissimilar to ours. She like another good friend of ours is in a mixed marriage, but it just really didn’t matter – we were bound together by our adventure as people. We talked for a good while about our children and how they were learning and growing as we were going through this adventure. She told us about a man she met from South Africa and chronicled his adventure to get here.

In the days prior to the inauguration there was a real excitement in everyone we met.

And then change happened …

It was the big day – we started out on the Metro at 5:30 in the morning to be able to get through what would be crowds bigger than what the city was equipped to handle. At our final subway stop we got off the train onto a platform that was overwhelmed with people. It was quite difficult to stay on the platform a safe distance from the trains coming in to the station. A police officer and several metro employees tried to guide the crowd into an orderly line that would flow all the way to the end of the platform and then back to help get everyone out without injury. We were the only one of a few that did as we were asked – the rest pressed in, broke the line and ignored the pleas for order from the officer. Shortly after disembarking the Metro announced they were closing that station. I guess they just gave up.

We were on the street now and had our tickets with directions for how we were to get to our assigned gate. We walked down the assigned street among a sea of people toward the security checkpoint and then we stopped. Initially we figured it was just too early, but later we learned that the path had been blocked with metal barriers. This seemed very strange since we had followed the path to the mall that was laid out on the instructions that came with our tickets. For the next couple of hours this would be where we would stand and wait to move toward our gate. It wasn’t until much later that an officer finally explained to as many of us that could hear him that we were going to have to move down a block and approach the security area from another side.

Crowds were pressing in from all sides and it seemed we would never move because our “path” was being filled from other directions. As we stood near the barriers we noticed that each time the police would move another barrier would be opened and people would run toward the gate. In the end the barriers were finally broken down, the police moved aside and we were wafted toward the gate as we clung to our children to ensure as best we could their safety.

We could see now that the line was moving toward a security area to the left. It didn’t take too long for us to be pressed into the funnel to the security area. Once in we went through the security checkpoint and made our way up to the silver section just behind the reflecting pool where a great number of people were already standing to witness the event. We picked a spot and felt we could breathe again as we waited for the events to begin. We watched behind us as people were still flooding in to the security checkpoint and filtering their way into the area.

Plastic and steel fences had been erected to leave lanes open through the area to allow safety and security workers to get in and out of the crowd. Then the crowd just trampled down the security fence and went where they desired. It was a constant struggle for the lone police officer to keep this lane cleared out – people just didn’t seem to care. At about the same time in front of us the entire crowd suddenly surged forward in a great mass – breaking down another fence and swarming onto statues and into areas previously blocked off. We were a little concerned about the failure of the very limited security forces, but were hopeful that our little spot would remain safe.

Then it happened the crowds broke down the barriers that were guiding people through the security checkpoint and a mass of people charged toward us. I was away from my wife and moved quickly to get near her. We watched amazed as a screaming throng drove toward us. The officer attempting to keep the safety lanes cleared took down his tape and departed the scene. I then made a decision as a father – my wife and children’s safety trumped viewing the inauguration. We couldn’t really get out while the mob was running, so we watched carefully and waited. As we waited our hearts were broken as President Bush was loudly booed when he was announced, and people continued trite conversations during Rick Warren’s invocation

The running seems to have ended so we made our way quietly away from the area. It was no longer secure or ticketed. We went all the way around the capital seeking sanctuary in Senator Session’s office. We had gone from having a really good view of this historical event to having to leave for the safety and protection of our family.

The amazing part to us is that we had been here just four years ago and witnessed a very different scene four years ago at the last inauguration. So now we were starting to get the picture of change in our country. While I think that if Obama and his family were standing with us on the mall he would probably have left with us to protect his own wife and children – I also think he has ignited an unintended change in the fabric of our society - a change that elevates our immediate desires to trump our safety, security and future.

Four years ago two things were true – first of all there was plenty of security. A very strong presence that enforced the plan laid out before the inauguration began. This day there was very little security that tried to enforce a seemingly random plan and eventually gave up and left. I was not at all comforted by this change, but it didn’t really surprise me since the left side of our country wants freedom without boundaries and has great distain for the military and order. It was more important to allow the throngs to pay homage to the new “rock star” president than it was to preserve safety and the integrity of this transfer of power ceremony that has gone on in our country since it was founded. In retrospect I wonder if the police didn’t actually keep things safer by retreating – it may be that confronting this particular mob would have escalated to a point that could not be controlled.

Secondly four years ago the vast majority honored the security that was in place. Nobody pressed past boundaries. We never heard the phrase “they can’t arrest us all” uttered by anyone in the crowd. We actually saw protesters four years ago who were able to speak their minds and show their opinions. The difference was they were very few in number and while lots of riot police were standing visibly by they were allowed to continue as long as safety rules were observed. This time it was much different – the majority of people in attendance felt that their will to get past the checkpoints justified them breaking down the barriers and darting through the few police that were there.

The will of the people is an interesting thing – it seems in the case of what we observed during the inauguration that the will of the people won out over the rule of law. I was disappointed, but I don’t completely fault the security people – they were highly outnumbered and this particular crowd was not at all interested in compliance. In a bizarre way they may have helped things pass without further incident by not trying to suppress the will of non-conformance to the rules in place.

We stayed on in DC several more days to see some of the sights and found as we went from place to place in the capital city that there was a theme that kept recurring. Many of our great leaders had sacrificed their popularity for the good of the country – to do what they thought was best. I’m glad we stayed, and I’m really glad we took the time to see our Nation’s capital.

The first one I noticed was in a brochure about the Washington monument. It is an easy point to miss, but a huge point to understand. George Washington after his victory over the most powerful army in the world could have any position in the new union that he desired, but he relinquished his position. He could have literally been proclaimed king, but had the wisdom to make way for the representative republic we enjoy today. This moment in time was possibly one of the bravest – most noble acts of Washington’s life. He made a huge personal sacrifice that paved the way to an amazing democracy.

In similar fashion I found man y additional examples of presidents who made this similar sacrifice in the National Portrait Gallery. I was surprised to learn there that Lyndon Johnson – who was president when I was born, was saddled with the same problem of having hard choices cast a shadow on his presidency. In the gallery I found many examples of this same sacrifice of leadership. I hope our new president is willing to cash in his popularity for the safety and security of our great land.

The capital itself is an amazing testimony to our forefathers – the building itself is a testimony to the balance they sought by designing a government with three equal branches, and a congress with two equal parts. Everything from the movie to the tour itself was a testimony to the wisdom of our founding fathers, but the best part of our visit to the capital was sitting in the house gallery and listening to a representative from Indian speaking personally of his knowledge of Bush and how we all owe him our respect for leading the country with a steady resolve. He noted a moment in time where Bush came into the room having been advised by all to pull out of Iraq. Bush said that Lincoln had been through many generals to find the right one. Bush said he had found the right man in Patraes and that while seemingly everyone thought we should retreat – Bush said he had decided to win. The surge worked and Iraq is a much different place today.

I’m sad that Bush was booed so loudly from the silver section where we were standing, and I’d like the opportunity to thank him for giving me the gift of his popularity in exchange for great strides in the war on terror. I like the idea that our leaders are willing to do what is best for us, and not just follow every wind of change. Not all change is good – some change is a great idea, but other change – like the will of a mob winning that day against security for that very mob’s protection is a change that is not a good thing.

Another totally amazing place was the library of congress – seemingly every stone in the building is a testimony to a great nation. Our forefathers knew that knowledge in every area was extremely important to the success of our union. Another example of personal sacrifice was Thomas Jefferson who after the British burned the first library of Congress sold his personal collection of books to congress for far less that what he had paid for it. The union was more important to him than holding on to a library he had worked his whole life to collect.

I’m not opposed to change – I’d just like to know what type of change we are talking about. I don’t want to change a country and government founded on the principal that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t want to change an economy that allows all of us to pursue our dreams. I don’t want to change to an invasive government that regulates its way into our freedoms. I don’t want to change to a country that is at risk for violence from terrorist both within and without because of the emasculation of our defense and security. I saw a glimpse of this in DC and it was a frightening to me.


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