With Obama: Rendezvous With History

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[Reporter's Notebook]

It was great to be a part of history--just by being in Washington, D.C., yesterday, for the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama, as the first African American president of the United States.

Being there as a reporter, to chronicle the event for posterity, was an added bonus.

Never mind that it took more than half-an hour to move between two or three blocks in the City yesterday, with the millions of others in town who wanted to be a part of history.

At one point, I was pinned in a crowd with many people getting antsy as we tried to move at snail's pace towards the Capitol. The road ahead was blocked; there was no question of going backwards. I could make no gains even with the official media accreditation I was wearing.

Then suddenly, I saw the ocean parting. It was Rev. Al Sharpton making his way out; perhaps he was coming from the nearby hotel and heading towards the Capitol for the swearing in?

After we exchanged greetings --we are both New Yorkers and veterans of many battles together--I took the opportunity, as people opened a path for Sharpton and his entourage, to also slide through the opening.

It got me and my photographer ahead; just a little ahead, and the paths closed again. It took us some time to making it to the swearing in location.
In between, we spoke with many Americans who had travelled from around the country to be there on this great day.

There was 88 year old William John, Jr., who came to be there in D.C. on this day from Chicago, Illinois, Obama's adopted home town. "I feel great about this," he said. "I did not believe I would live to see this day."

John, a retired mechanic, said his only regret was that his wife, who died more than 30 years ago, had not lived to see the day.

"I knew he was going to win from the beginning," John added. "From the very first speech I felt that there was something. It had feeling. That is why people gave him so much money. One of the main things was that he did not have to read it off some paper." He said Obama's presidency will help "educate more young people" that anything is possible.

Mary Wheat, 64 years old, from Versailles, Kentucky, said "I feel beautiful. I never thought I would see something like this in my life. I hope all nationalities will come as one and help our children stay off the drugs."

Young Mary Aaron, an 11 year old sixth grader from Massachusetts, was there with her mother, and sounded like she is ready for a cabinet post in Obama's Administration.

"It's a very exciting day because finally we have the first African American president." Aaron said, adding that, on the economy: "I feel that he will do a good job.
"He has a family with him in the White House and that will help him focus on other families," she continued. "He will do everything better." 

Then it was on to the swearing in. Obama made a great speech, although personally I think it's impossible to top the Philadelphia speech of last year.

As expected it centered on the need for sacrifice from all Americans to get through the challenges of this miserable economy--there were some digs at the departing administration with the reference to transparency, since Obama wants to fight corruption. He also denounced the greed that got us to where we are today.

He wanted a tone that would embrace all Americans, so while he spoke of this unique country that allowed the son of a man from a Kenyan village to become president, he wanted to make all Americans feel that their ancestor had also toiled hard and made sacrifices. Personally, I believe that he should have made a distinction between that toil and the suffering of slaves; I didn't feel it was right to equate the torture of people in bondage with the sacrifice made by those who freely travelled to settle the Western frontier. That's why it's always been referred to as the "peculiar" institution.

Then again, we are at a time when the nation has lost 2.6 million jobs; with possible millions more to be lost. Companies are shutting down, which Obama pointed out, and Americans are losing their homes, as jobs and paychecks disappear. It's understandable why Obama chose to focus on the common challenges we now face collectively. After all, he will need the support of all Americans --the general public and politicians-- to tackle the challenges the nation faces on the economic and war fronts.

Getting back to New York from Washington, D.C., was also a challenge. Although I had an invitation from the Presidential Inauguration Committee to the Mid Atlantic Ball, where Obama and Michelle were to show up, I knew I had to come back to New York to help put the newspaper together. Getting into Amtrak station was almost impossible.

A 15 minute walk there from the Capitol took me almost two hours because of the number of people and the re-routing of paths for security reasons. There were armed security personnel everywhere, some mingled into the crowd.

Once I got to the station, there were tens of thousands outside the building with the same idea. Only those with tickets were allowed in. You had to wave your ticket and they would let in a few hundred people every few minutes.

I could not turn back, with thousands pushing me from behind; so I waved the piece of paper I was holding and somehow got in.

Getting on the train was another nightmare. When I got to the counter, the clerk told me there were only two tickets left in the dozens of trains traveling to New York last night. By the time I pulled out my credit card those tickets had been purchased by someone online.

I tried using the self-service machine. Tickets were sold out for the next three days. Even to neighboring states like Connecticut and New Jersey.

But I come from the school which says nothing in this world is impossible. I kept going back to the machine every half hour. Voila! I found one remaining ticket and made it back to New York last night.

[More on Allimadi's Washington journey later]

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