As I stepped onto the U.S. Capitol lawn, chilled from waiting outside for hours in the cold and about to witness the inauguration of the first African American president of the United States, my involvement with the Obama campaign came full circle. I was an early primary supporter of the candidate, helped start the Students for Obama group on the UW-Madison campus, and worked for the general election campaign with the College Democrats this fall. While Election Night last November was an incredible and gratifying experience, the opportunity to see Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president was a fitting way to see the campaign through its end.
The excitement in the air, both on Tuesday and for several days before, was palpable in Washington, D.C. As we waited for the dignitaries to be seated before the inaugural ceremony, the crowd went wild with cheers and chanting each time Obama was shown on the jumbo screen. The sheer joy among D.C. residents and out-of-towners was a constant presence, despite the long lines, frigid weather and frequent chaos.
I woke up at 4 a.m. to take the Metro train into the city and get in line. Although I was part of the now infamous purple ticket section that had to wait for hours to get into the inauguration, and ended up waiting in line for over five hours to get into the ceremony, I luckily saw the ceremony from good seats. Despite the crazy logistical problems, I witnessed patient, calm and understanding people, many of whom were never even admitted into the event.
I had an amazing experience at the Inauguration, but the historic element of it has been the most significant part of my trip thus far. My generation has grown up learning about the struggles, victories and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Our parents and teachers taught us that all people were created equal, regardless of race, gender or sexuality. Many of us wondered how our parents' generation could teach us about the importance of equal rights, yet ignore many of the underlying racial and gender issues of our country.
One reason my generation is drawn to Obama is his choice to talk honestly with Americans about the problems facing our nation. He is unafraid to confront difficult issues in America, such as race relations. One line of Obama's inaugural speech crystallized his ability to acknowledge our past and current racial pains, yet remind America of the deep meaning of his oath of office.
Obama said, only 60 years ago, his Kenyan-born father might not have been served at a local D.C. restaurant, yet by 2009 his son was sworn in as the leader of the free world. The significance of that line resonated with me and tears welled in my eyes as I realized the American ideal of racial equality had made a meaningful step forward. I understand the election of Obama is not the end of racial problems in America, but it is certainly an important moment in our nation's history.
Obama's campaign was always an improbable one. We were the underdogs from the beginning, and before Election Night 2008 I had never fully considered what a President Obama would mean to my generation, because I was too busy working on the challenges of his candidacy. So when he won, it was an emotional and powerful experience, but now a memory that pales in comparison to the past few days.
The opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and witness this historical and personally significant inauguration was meaningful in a way words cannot begin to describe. I think the week's events are still sinking in, but I know one thing for sure. January 20, 2009 is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.
Lavilla Capener is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, communications director of the College Democrats of Madison, and volunteered for the Obama campaign. She has been blogging her experiences in D.C. during the inaugural festivities, with reports on days one, two, three, and four of her visit so far. Ongoing reports can be found at the Madison College Democrats blog.