Tuesday 20 January 2009

A View From the Mall

The National Mall in Washington is a space of roughly 300 football pitches. By 9 o’clock on Tuesday the only standing space left to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration was in front of the 555 foot 5 inch monument to America’s first president, George Washington. Obama invoked that leader and the 42 others who had taken the oath of office but not one of them has performed their task in front of so many.

From the raised banks on which the Washington Monument sits, I could see Capitol Hill and a haze of miniature flags but any glimpse of the new president or other dignitaries was impossible from a distance of 1.2 miles. I was one of the last lucky ones to get a view of the Capitol; those who arrived later had to watch the big screens even further away towards the Lincoln Memorial where U2, Bon Jovi and Beyonce performed on Sunday. But that did not deter two million people from braving temperatures of -5C.

While we waited, there was plenty of humour to keep spirits high if not toes warm. Darth Vader’s Theme was hummed loudly as Dick Cheney appeared. “One down!” when Joe Biden was sworn in as Vice President minutes before Obama took to the podium. For Bush, that simple Steam song made famous by Bananarama, “Na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na, Hey Hey, Goodbye.”

When the moment came for the 44th President to take his oath and address the sea of shivering bodies, an air of solemnity fell on the American capital with many moved to tears. Obama’s speech will be pored over for generations to come but, for me, the most profound moments were the short, poignant pauses between his phrases as the huddled masses stood in silence—expectant for his next word and the near realisation of the change for which so many have hoped for so long.

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