A Burien Brit’s DC Diary Day #3: The Day After

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Satellite photo by Geo-Eye-One.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob is an Englishman who lives in Burien who traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to attend the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. This is his final report.]

WED. 1/21/08 – THE DAY AFTER
I had one more full day in Washington, DC and had a mission to make full use of it doing something a little less strenuous. The first order of business was to buy the souvenir newspapers. Hudson’s News at Union Station was the ideal place with hundreds of each still available. The high demand meant a long line for the cash register but that only meant more time to meet new people and chat about our experiences and hopes.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels ended up watching the Inauguration on TV in his hotel room.

My next port of call was Senator Patty Murray’s coffee gathering in the Dirksen Senate Office Building where I soon met the Senator herself. There were many other distinguished attendees including the Mayor of Tacoma, Bill Baarsma, the travel writer, Rick Steves, and the Mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels.

Mayor Nickels was among the thousands of ticket holders who were unable to get into the Purple section (near the Capitol behind the seated areas) due to some sort of security problems. Despite traveling from Seattle and waiting for hours in the freezing cold only to have to watch the swearing-in ceremony in his hotel room, he maintained a positive attitude and was content to have shared the experience with many ordinary citizens. He never felt that he should receive special treatment just because he was the mayor of a major U.S. city and for that I think he deserves a lot of respect.

My plan for the day was solidified thanks to Jimmy, a staffer in Senator Murray’s office who told me that I could obtain a pass to the Senate Visitors Gallery from their office. Before I could use it though I had to stop by the Rayburn Office Building to thank the staff at Congressman Adam Smith’s office for having given me the Inauguration tickets and making my experience so memorable.

I spent almost 2.5 hours in the Senate Visitors Gallery watching the Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for Senator Hillary Clinton for the post of Secretary of State. Initially it seemed strange that there were very few senators present. John Kerry, the committee chairman, spoke in support of Senator Clinton and introduced a number of other senators including Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont). During a quiet period when a senator failed to appear, Senator Kerry used the opportunity to spend about 20 minutes talking about the national security implications of global warming and the melting of the ice mass in Greenland. The visitors loved it and applauded rapturously. Then came the vote. Those of us who hadn’t observed such an event before were wondering how they could hold a vote with only a few senators present, but the question was soon answered with almost all senators in the 110th Congress arriving quickly to cast their vote. We didn’t see Senator Clinton, but we recognized many faces, including Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and President Obama’s controversially selected successor, Roland Burris, from Chicago. The party atmosphere as they all chatted with one another lasted about 30 minutes and then it went quiet again. The deed was done though. Hillary Clinton was confirmed as Secretary of State by a vote of 94 to 2 and the visitors showed their hearty appreciation.

Outside, at the back of the Capitol I stood in the place from which George W. Bush left by helicopter only a day ago. I spent a few minutes looking at the surrounding buildings, which were now glowing in the evening sun. The Supreme Court stands to the east; the Senate office buildings stand to the north, and the House office buildings stand to the south.

Another text message arrived from the President:

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,
and begin the work of remaking America.”

How can you argue with that?

I called home and then moved over to the south end of the Capitol Building to watch the sunset over the Mall as the monuments started to glow and lights came on all over the city. It was hard to leave but I had to go. Descending into Capitol South Metro station, I left the stunning sight behind.

I’ll never forget the events of the week of January 18-21, 2009. How incredibly uplifting it was to see so many people concerned about the good of this country and the wider world, the wider world that looks to the United States for responsible and decent leadership. Many of the people I met agreed that change had come not just because of Barack Obama and his incredible accomplishment, but because of a collective realization that what was happening in the country just didn’t make sense. There had to be a better way forward and Barack Obama seemed to be just the person to help find that way.

Remember though, it’s not about him, it’s about us and what we are prepared to do.

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