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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Privilege to Witness History

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Gratitude is the only word that comes to mind when I think about my experience celebrating the Inauguration over the past few days. With everything I witnessed - from street vendors selling Obama souvenirs to watching President Obama and Michelle Obama dance at the Western Ball -- Iintensely felt how truly fortunate I was to witness history as a participant rather than as an observer.

My in-laws came into town to celebrate the inauguration so I spent three days trying to attend as many events as possible in order to get the full experience. On Sunday we headed into DC early and were able to walk down to the Mall and hear part of the concert at the Lincoln Memorial. It was surreal to hear musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Beyonce and U2 perform without paying a dime. As I strolled down Constitution Avenue and looked at the crowd and all of the street vendors, I was struck by how festive and joyous the occasion was. I didn't see any frowns, arguing, or boredom. Instead, I saw broad smiles, singing, laughing, and a little bit of mania on the part of those who sought out the most unique Obama souvenirs.

Later that day I went to the Maryland Ball at the historic Mayflower Hotel, where I heard an incredible band -- Sound Connection -- and was able to watch Savion Glover do his magic tap dancing. Of all of the weddings and dance clubs I've ever been too, I have never seen a dance floor as packed as the dance floor that night. The images that most stand out in my mind from that night are the iconic image of Obama's face etched into an ice sculpture and Glover's hand moving slowly to form a salute as he tap danced.

On Monday I walked around DC with my in-laws, stopping into various stores that sold every inaugural or Obama related item you can think of, such as Obama coasters, scarves, and even a box of chocolates with the seal imprinted on them (which my mother-in-law bought me). We walked to Dupont Circle and saw an incredible sight: a huge blow-up doll of Bush with a Pinocchio nose. There was an enormous pile of shoes at the bottom of the blow up and a large group had gathered taking turns throwing shoes at the blow up. Further along in the circle was a large tapestry with the Constitution written on it, which members of the public were signing with the feather markers provided. The amount of creativity on display was simply amazing. Later on Monday night I went to the Black Cat and heard several Chicago bands perform. It was the perfect event for Inauguration Eve.

Since I volunteered as a Team Captain for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, I was required to be at the Mall by 4am. I left my friend's house at 3:30 and headed down towards the Washington Monument. I was shocked by the number of people up and already heading to the Mall at that point. I met my team and headed to 14th Street to do our part in answering questions and guiding visitors as they approached. Although it was extremely cold and uncomfortable for most visitors, this did not cause tempers to flare. The occasion was so momentous that no one seemed to be in a negative frame of mind. Instead, we all sang as we watched the Lincoln Memorial concert on the jumbotrons (it was replayed on the jumbotrons before the swearing in ceremony began) and told Bush/Cheney jokes to pass the time. As cheesy as it sounds, that morning it really felt like we were one.

That feeling of camaraderie continued throughout the ceremony, as many of us shed tears, clapped and jumped after Obama took the oath of office and made Inaugural speech.

Although I was on my feet from 3:30am until I arrived at a hotel for lunch at 2:30, I was not deterred from getting ready to wait in long lines again for the Western Ball at the Convention Center. Although there were a variety of snafus that prevented me from getting into the Ball until 9, seeing President Obama and Michelle Obama dancing together - their love on display -- made it all worthwhile.

I will post pictures from my adventures within the next few days.


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