Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama's inauguration: The weight of history

Washington, D.C. -- He's a human, not the messiah, we were warned by the Reverend Gene Robinson Sunday, who fought to be heard among the 500,000 who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.

The sight was one to behold and difficult to capture in pictures. From my vantage point, from the south side of the reflecting pool and just 250  metres out from the steps that lead to Abraham Lincoln's seat, the sights and sounds (and often silence) of the thousands was breathtaking. People, from the stage of the performer stretched to the Monument, more than a mile away.

It's a little odd feeling that was left from Sunday as we head into Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. Yesterday, we saw how formidable and how popular Obama has become. Yesterday, as hundreds of thousands of us gathered to see him and the celebrity that has also embraced him, we realized that yes, he is Obama, but yes, he is also a man. Maybe you can sense it in the silence in the crowd, a well behaved and orderly half million.

Oh, they were excited. "Oh, ba, ma," the chants raised from the many small gatherings that formed the mass -- of college kids and elder African Americans, of families, young and old, of old Democrats and young voters.

What does a man do when he draws so much admiration, yet faces so much in terms of challenges?

It was odd the feeling at the concert, which mixed music with historical interludes. On one hand, we're being reminded of some greats from America's past -- JFK, MLK and FDR. Just as this city has built monuments to honour some of them, here stands another, ready to begin his time. Where does he place himself in history?

We arrived early at the concert venue, and as the Mall filled up, we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw how many people had come up. People we spoke to talked about optimism and engagement in politics, even when more daunting challenges loom.

At the end of a rollicking musical set, Obama's speech set the tone to what we're likely to hear again on inauguration day. It's about tempering mass expectations with his own high aspirations.

"It'll take more than a month, or a year, it'll likely take many," Obama said of the country's economic challenges. "Along the way there will be false starts... Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of American will endure.

It must have been quite the scene that lay in front of him, as was noted time adn time again, the same steps where MLK stood, the steps in front of the great emcapator, that he saw a massive crowd gathered to 'witness history.' History, as he aptly noted, is etched in stone around this city, and although he has already set some, he must have been humbled by what he saw in front of him.

"Yet as I stand here today is not the stone [of the memorials in the Mall]," Obama said. "It's what fills the places in between. It is you."

Yes, he is only one man, and I guess what makes this weekend powerful is in the hundreds of thousands today, millions tomorrow, who will make the pilgrimage to see what one man can inspire in a nation.
See the video I took from the event.

*Posts at his personal blog/twitter are views of Kenny Yum, not that of the National Post.

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