Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Biking the Inauguration

Guest blogger Jim Cason

The Metro by our house was already standing room at 5:30 am when I first went outside to take a look and decide how we were going to get to the inauguration. In the end, with no ticket promising special access to the event, we decided to ride bicycles through the crowds with our six-year-old daughter in tow. Bicycle riding was pretty easy. Security precautions had stopped almost all traffic except for charter buses, emergency vehicles, and limos carrying the rich, famous, and one assumes powerful.

By 9:30 am the street in front of the FCNL building was jammed with people clutching maps and walking along toward what they hoped were special entry places (after months of back and forth the security folks chose not to close the street to people). We saw several people stop to take a picture of the War Is Not the Answer sign hanging on the front side of the building before hurrying off to find a way into the festival.

Although many people from out of town were confused about which way to go, the spirit of the crowd was amazing. Hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom had traveled for days to get to this event, didn’t even appear to care if they heard every word that President Obama spoke – they just wanted to be here and to catch a glimpse of the man who is now the president. While I spend nearly every day parsing words, and trying to figure out the meaning behind what people are saying and doing, many of the people who came to this inauguration just wanted to be physically present for the event.

On our bikes, we tried entering the Mall at North Capitol, at 4th Street, at 7th Street, at 14th Street, and finally got onto the Mall at 17th Street by the Washington Monument. But by then the Cold was catching up with our 6-year-old and we went down to get a better view at the Lincoln Memorial (23rd Street). A crowd that stretches back 23 blocks is pretty good size – as you can see from this amazing satellite photograph. Crowd estimates ranged from 1.4 to 3 million.

We passed the “Congressman Danny Davis” bus (presumably carrying constituents from his district in Chicago), saw people from Minnesota (they probably didn’t think it was cold), and California (they probably thought it was cold). But most of the people were so bundled up it was hard to tell where they were from – they just looked happy.

After returning home, a friend asked me what did you feel? Today I find myself relieved to have a president who says he will “restore science to its rightful place”, who wants to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” and who understands the economy can’t just be fixed but has to be transformed. I expect a lot, I imagine what could be, and I know that we at FCNL have a lot of work to do to energize the movement that will be needed to make the change in Washington that we all want. On this inauguration day, I saw a lot of people who would like to help. The challenge is how to reach them and draw them into this work.


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