January 20, 2009 was an emotional, historic and ground-shifting day in more ways that I can count. There have been so many excellent blog posts on how it affected people (I should know, as I have many of them opened in tabs in Firefox so I can catch up on reading them when I get a free moment) that I don’t feel I have much to add to the zeitgeist. Nonetheless, I have been drafting this blog post in my head since yesterday, so I may as well add it to the blogosphere.
Yesterday we held an inaugural viewing and potluck breakfast at CubeSpace. I can safely tell you that neither David nor I put much thought into whether we should host this event or not. It was just an instinctual, “there is a momentous event and we have a community gathering space, so we should put out an invitation.” However, my perspective changed as the day began to unfold.
The morning started with the usual crowd of early arrivers. These are the folks that I usually get a little more time to chat with before the chaos really begins. Then more and more folks began to arrive, with partners, friends and in one case, children in tow. As we got closer to the actual swearing in, the general tenor of the room changed. There was an almost palpable sense of anticipation and some folks (myself included) started to get a little teary.
As attendees of the actual inauguration were asked to rise, there was some discussion here about whether we, as television viewers, should rise or not. I like to think of that point as being where I began to really fathom what was going on. Even though we were watching these events that were taking place 2,800 miles away, on a relatively small 32″ screen, we somehow felt that we were part of something bigger. A feeling that I kept hearing repeated by folks all over the world as new coverage continued throughout the day.
Once upon a time, not every one had a television set. So family, friends and neighbors used to gather at the home of whomever was lucky (or an early adopter or wealthy) enough to own a television set. Television programs were a notable weekly event, often eagerly anticipated. Everyone knew that Uncle Milty or Lucille Ball would be topics of converstion around the water cooler (before they became figurative) or in the playground or over coffee.
Fast forward to now. People have giant HD tvs with surround sound home theater systems, so that they now have a better set-up than most movie theaters. There are so many channels that television has become an individualized experience, often with family members spread throughout the house, watching their own shows alone.
Yesterday was a remarkable exception to the norm. The twittersphere was filled with folks who were watching the inauguration with friends and family. The news was filled with reports of people flying to Chicago and DC to stand out in the cold and watch it on giant Jumbotrons. Something was compelling these folks out of their warm comfort zones and into community.
President Obama (oh, how I love getting to type that!) has been consistent in his call for community since his campaign. Both his speech at the We Are One concert as well as his inaugural address reiterated his message of the power of community. Not just those of us in the US who need to work together to recover from the damage of the Bush era, not just the need for our government to be inclusive of not only those who agree, & those who disagree, but also the need for the US to rejoin the community of nations.
Yesterday I had to run to a meeting in Gresham right after Obama’s inaugural address. As someone who spends her days running from pillar to post, I found it unusually hard to disengage from the gathering at CubeSpace. Apparently I was not the only one. When I popped my head in at 3ish, there was still a good crowd in Agora (including some new folks who weren’t there for the inauguration). Once again, the pull remained.
As much as I would like to claim that yesterday’s global communal experience will result in a lasting change, I know that is not the case. But, given how much we seemed to all crave community yesterday, I am hopeful that we have opened a window into the past when Americans gathered together and shared daily experiences. Back to the time when community service (either through fraternal organizations like the Lions, Elks, Rotary, etc. or as individuals) was almost a given, as everyone was clear that it takes a community to maintain a community.
In this time of stress and uncertainty can we look outside of ourselves and work for the greater good? Yes we can.