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We'll bring you first-hand accounts of local Seattle-area residents and their journey to D.C. and generally all things inauguration. If you're going to the inauguration and would like to contribute, contact us here.

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January 20, 2009 12:37 PM

On my way home

Posted by staff

Submitted by Himanee Gupta-Carlson

It's 5:48 p.m. Tuesday, January 20. I'm on DC metro heading back to Fairfax. We're swapping stories with other riders and I am finding myself thinking about the view from the streets I had wanted to convey.

I eschewed efforts to score tickets, buy my way into more comfortable seating or attend inaugural balls. I wanted to feel the inauguration like one of the 2 million or 3 million who were just going to show up and be part of the crowd.

So many plans, hopes had to be scrapped. As a reporter, back in the day, I could dip into a crowd and collect quotes, stories from people. Afterwards, I could escape to a desk in a newsroom and file my story of their stories. As one of the people pushing and feeling herded through street after street, there was no time for story. At least, that story. I could only focus on my story and on not stumbling. Literally.

Three million is one estimate of the number of people who were at the National Mall. Oddly it hadn't sounded so large and overwhelming as I laid out my plans. 1 percent of America. Or two Seattles. Ten Woodstocks, all occurring in a few hours not a few days, simultaneously in one rather geographically constrained space.

The subway ride back to Fairfax gave me time to reflect and to talk story with others who made the pilgrimage to DC. I met a man from Monasses, Va., who talked about how he had begun his day at 3:30 a.m., and about how Obama's presidency would change forever how the disenfranchised would view themselves. I also talked with a man from Michigan traveling with his two daughters. He shared a new desire to work for something bigger and greater than himself. We talked of community gardens, local book fairs, stream cleanups in our communities and more.

We were with 3 million people for a half- hour in ceremony, and with them for probably two hours before and two hours after, walking and searching. We did not talk much. But we felt our presence, our shared energy. "How do we keep that energy from going?" the man from Michigan asked. That's what we must keep doing next.

An addendum at 3:19 p.m. Wednesday: We covered the writing of the U.S. Constitution in my political science classes a week ago, the last time I saw my students before I left for DC and created the virtual classroom we all participated in yesterday. Comments about the white, male, elite characteristics of the "founders" surfaced, as did questions about whether these men whom history teaches us to revere really did understand the concept of freedom. The one and only street vendor yesterday that my husband and I caved into were two men selling shirts with an image of Obama set against the White House and the words "Back into the House we built," an allusion to the slave labor that built both the mansion and America. I have repeatedly asserted that Obama's election was all about race in America, even as mainstream media and commentary asserted the opposite. Yet, I urged my students last week to explore and appreciate the radicalism of what the founders created.

In Washington DC yesterday, I saw people of all colors, classes, and nationalities. The most dominant faces were African American. Obama has given people hope worldwide. In America, he has given those who have suffered the legacy of slavery most, a renewed dignity. His presidency has not healed the past, but it has perhaps reopened the wound for treatment so that it might fester no more.

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