Inauguration Trip 2009

A group of SMU communications and journalism students led by Rita Kirk, professor in the Division of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs in Meadows School of the Arts, is headed to Washington, D.C., in January 2009 for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

The Audacity of the Huddled Masses

An update from Kristin, a senior CCPA major:

My fingertips had disappeared, taken hostage by the bitter air and biting wind. As I desperately willed my small hand-warming packets to work, I stood among hundreds of thousands of people in that miserable climate and I felt foolish.

Kristin-1SM.jpg Families with young children, elderly couples and cliques of friends had laid claim to small patches of grass, probably in the early hours of the morning, to secure a decent spot in front of the Lincoln Memorial just to catch a distant view of the opening ceremonies. This crowd of diverse people (age, race, social status, you name it) had only two things in common: they were bitterly cold and were determined to be a part of history despite it. No one complained, no one fought, some even slept. They sat together in what Texans would probably consider uncomfortable and inappropriate proximity, in a huddled mass that stretched from the street at the base of the Lincoln Memorial to halfway down the frozen reflecting pool.

Cynics criticized Obama for being all flare and style but no substance. They criticized him for being inexperienced, young, and unqualified. But the smiling and energetic expressions of the people today, bearing against the wind, even those wrapped up by scarves so that only their eyes were visible, are not proof that experience and substance don’t matter to Americans, but rather that Americans are looking for something else far more rare than 30 years in office or a long track record. Whatever that something is, whether it is hope, optimism or unity, they clearly see that in Obama.

Stephen Hess, former adviser to Presidents Carter and Ford, predicted that Obama’s “honeymoon” would last longer than most previous presidents’ – and I think the mass optimism I saw today supports such a claim. The public is far more than simply enamored with Obama, and unless Obama makes a fatal gaffe or policy decision, Americans will give him the patience he needs to meet our expectations.

The New York Times documented the masses at the Lincoln Memorial here.

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Celebration vs. commemoration

Jessica.jpeg.jpgAn update from Jessica, a senior CCPA and political science major:

I felt a strong sense of contradiction as I walked across the National Mall this morning. The grounds were bustling with people staking out seats along the reflection pond in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the concert this afternoon. People were laughing, celebrating and anticipating the coming of a new president.

But all around us the memorials stood as reminders of other, more somber events that I could not forget just because we’re in the middle of a celebration.

As we walked through the World War II memorial, there were concertgoers posing for pictures in front of their state’s names, taking cheesy pictures with the Washington Monument in the background and seemingly forgetting the purpose behind the marble they were trotting over.

Just a hundred yards behind the longest line of porta-potties I have ever seen, the Vietnam Memorial stood dark and empty behind gates and National Guardsmen stationed for the concert. Though I have never seen the memorial up-close, its gravity struck me the same way the others did; their somberness seemed amplified by the obliviously cheerful tourists trampling around them to see Beyonce and Usher.

The grounds are a time for celebration as well as remembrance, I know, but I wish the memorials were always paid the reverence they deserve.

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Revisiting the Vietnam Memorial

An update from Brad, a junior with a double major in economics and CCPA, and a history minor:

Quite the productive day today. Today we visited the Mall in Washington, D.C., the site of the main memorials and monuments that Washington, D.C., has to offer.

I found the Vietnam Memorial to be the most interesting memorial despite the fact that we were unable to actually get close to it since it was blocked off for the concert. When I was about 9 years old, I came to Washington, D.C., mainly to see all the sights, and I did see the Vietnam Memorial while I was here then. However, at such a young age, I don’t think I was able to appreciate it as much as I do now. I understood what it stood for at the ripe age of 9, but now I have more of an appreciation for it. The majority of men on that wall are either my age or younger, and I seem to have had a newfound respect for what I saw from even a distance of 50 yards.

Dr. Schill explained how the names on the memorial were organized in order from the first death to the last death. The name of the first person who died was listed in the middle of the memorial, and the names fan out from there, and then the name of the last person who died was also in the middle. Dr. Schill probed our minds to think about what we thought this meant.

I spoke up to say that this symbolizes that the war only ended right where it began. It was just a big circle, and not much was achieved beyond the death of many brave soldiers. I was baffled by the political undermining that this memorial imposed on the people who perceived it as I did – while I may add, not all people could perceive it as I did.

But I like to think that despite the message I got from the memorial, more was achieved than just the death of these soldiers, and that the soldiers did not die in vain. The memorial should not be there to simply remind us that people died in a war; it should be there to remind us that people died for a reason in the war.

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A March on Washington

An update from Cody, a junior with a political science major and CCPA minor:

In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed upwards of 250,000 civil rights supporters. His famous speech – “I Have a Dream” – described not only a brighter future for all Americans but addressed the economic problems plaguing the country.

This morning we walked along the Mall to see the monuments, but we couldn’t get close to most of them because they were gated off from the thousands of people gathering to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration … along with Bono, Beyonce, and other celebrities. The concert started at 2 but by 10:30 am, there were at least a thousand people there, if not more than two thousand. People were sitting on blankets, drinking coffee, trying to keep warm and save a decent spot to see the show that took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

By the time Obama made an appearance around 4, I heard there were half a million people there. Seeing those gathered early in the day I couldn’t help but imagine what the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 must have been like – being surrounded by thousands of people motivated, passionate, and empowered to make monumental change in our country.

I’ve stood on that spot just below Lincoln where King gave his speech, but I’ve never seen so many people together in that place. There were people of all ages, races and places. They were all using the National Mall, which is so often used as a place of remembrance and recreation, as a place to come together, share a dream, send a message, and further enact change.

I don’t really like comparisons between Obama and King; they are very different figures. However, I do think it is important to think of the Civil Rights Movement during Obama’s Inauguration (and I would write the exact same even if tomorrow were not MLK Day).

A vital part of King’s message that is often lost was the importance of economic progress not only for African-Americans but all people. Now that theme is more pressing than ever. Every day more people are losing their jobs, their homes, their livelihood. It is hard to remember the recession at this moment in DC because we’re in the middle of a gigantic celebration, but today the sight of so many people on the Mall reminded me of the importance of Obama’s presidency for all of us.

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Monumental feelings

i-maggie-sm.jpgAn update from Maggie, a junior CCPA major:

The Mall is a compilation of historic monuments that evoke all kinds of emotions.

Emotions of anger and passion. Protesters frequently gather to project to a crowd of anyone who will listen. They feel so moved by their cause that they want to make a difference and inform onlookers to do the same. It is, as American citizens, our First Amendment right to do so.

Emotions of sadness. The monuments scattered about the Mall symbolize loved ones who ultimately sacrificed their lives for the betterment of those who now visit it. Many people who gather there are still struck by the grief that those wars caused.

Emotions of gratitude and pride. People like myself who did not witness the millions of families that were affected by the casualties can still stand in the middle of the Mall and reflect and feel appreciative and grateful for the ones that did. Those who lost loved ones feel proud of the sacrifice that their son or daughter made.

The overwhelming swirling of emotions that surround the Mall is alive.

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How we remember war

An update from Jenny, a senior CCPA and sociology major:

Is it a memorial to honor those fallen soldiers or a memorial to display the tragic outcome of war? For years people have assembled in D.C. to view the Vietnam Memorial and debate its purpose. Whether it is an anti-war symbol or a pro-war symbol is discussed among many individuals. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the context of the statue. It isn’t until you walk on that sidewalk and see all the names that all of those petty debates slip out of your mind.

All of those names on the reflecting walls hold a power greater than all of us. While the memorial helps us remember the war, I believe its primary focus is to constantly remind us that all of those soldiers who died were real humans. People with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, wives and children. The memorial doesn’t focus on the actual war, in terms of whether we won or lost. In fact, that topic is irrelevant. The Vietnam Memorial strives to challenge people to think about the true consequences of war, the loss of life.

We also saw the WWII Memorial today, which is an extremely different kind of memorial and serves a completely different purpose. The WWII Memorial does focus on the actual acts of war. This is illustrated by the quotes carved into the pillars. The messages portrayed are of military success, fear, honor and democracy. Instead of honoring those individuals from WWII, the monument honors the impact and importance of WWII.

While both of these monuments honor something, they perform that in opposite ways. So many people just walk through the Mall, witnessing each individual monument in individual terms. What we don’t realize is that all of the memorials on the Mall are there for a collective reason and function as a unit of our history. Looking at the memorials as a collection rather than separate entities delivers a more holistic understanding of America’s military history.

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Change of heart

Rachael%20in%20London.jpgAn update from Rachael, a senior CCPA major:

I have been raised by a highly conservative father and a more moderate mama. When the family is all together on special occasions we, like many families, don’t talk politics. The past generation’s strong viewpoints serve as a model for the current polarized partisanship to which I used to fall prey. I did not vote for the man who will place his hand on the Holy Bible and swear to serve our country to the best of his ability.

No man is an island. As a nation we acknowledge our interdependence yet simultaneously, as technology advances, our natural inclination of connection dwindles. Our society believes in the false paradigm that individual advancement comes solely from the individual, that there is no one a person can trust but themselves. This manipulated mindset harms the growth of our country and our image to the rest of the global community.

The example of convoluted capitalism that the great leading nations have shown calls for a change. America is a country of extraordinary vision. The current financial situation provides us the perfect opportunity to transition from a culture of mass overconsumption to assuming the posture that caring for your neighbor should not be the privilege just of an American, but also of a child of the Creator.

So often, we embrace only those people and ideas that support and bolster our own. That’s easy. Today, as I sat in the cavernous National Cathedral, I came face to face with reality by means of a 2,000-year-old passage of Scripture, Luke 6.
It is easy to love those who agree with you, but the true litmus test of character is found within those who can support those with whom they do not parallel.

So President-Elect Obama, this is my commitment to you, I will do what I can to bridge barriers and heal wounds of this great community I call home. God bless you and God bless America.

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Are we there yet?

An update from Kelsey, a junior CCPA major:

After a late start this morning, a group of us decided to navigate the subways on our own and head to Washington’s National Cathedral for its 11:15 service.

I’m a city girl through and through, and I pride myself on being fairly competent with directions, but for some reason the force was not with me this morning as we rode the escalator from the metro up to Dupont Circle. We had directions in our hands, but when there are as many bus stops here as there are Starbucks in Seattle, things can get a little confusing. After asking a book store owner, a newspaper salesman, and complete strangers which bus stop to take, we finally got the answer we were looking for from a woman selling artichokes at a mid-city farmers market.

The last time I had the opportunity to visit the cathedral was on an educational trip with my junior high history class, and little else besides snapping photos of stained glass windows held my attention. Though the stained glass windows were as beautiful as I remembered, what stood out to me this time was the architecture of the cathedral and the way the vaulted ceilings carried sound.

My favorite part of the service happened before the processional began when a chorus of men and boys sang a hymn a cappella. While the choir stood at the back of the church, the music swelled through the building. As someone who loves music in all its forms, especially choral pieces, it was a moment to marvel and reflect on why I’m here, and how lucky I am to be in this moment in this place with all these people from all walks of life.

I’m happy to report our journey back to the hotel was much less difficult than our journey to the cathedral. Until I’ve mastered the DC bus system, I think I’ll stick to metro.

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Time out for breakfast

An update from Christene, a junior CCPA major and business minor:

Christene-3.jpg Hundreds of people piled in to take their seats in the famous cathedral that has housed funerals of four presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

Christene-4.jpg The National Cathedral was breathtaking – huge! But I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it was our trip to a small cafe just before Mass that really took my breath away.

A fellow classmate, Jia, and I decided to grab brunch at a local cafe a couple of blocks down from the Cathedral. It was a random choice influenced by convenience of its distance from the cathedral and the line of people that stood outside the cafe before it opened.

We sat at the bar to get fast service, and that we did, plus more. I ordered what appeared to be a common breakfast platter: French toast, fruit, side of scrambled eggs, and a glass of orange juice. Jia ordered the same, but got bacon instead of eggs. In about ten minutes, Electra, our waitress, slid our plates in front of us, and before me were four slices of the thickest, most perfectly-browned French toasts I’d seen. It was surrounded with fresh slices of sweet strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Electra also gave me a small cup of lightly whipped butter and a jar of syrup.

After I took my first bite, I almost fell out of my seat. No exaggeration included: it was the best French toast I have ever eaten in my life – and I’ve had plenty from different cities, different states, and even different continents. These French toasts were masterpieces: Thick toasts, browned and seasoned, soft with slightly crispy edges. The whipped butter mixed well with the warm syrup, and was enlightened with bursts of flavors from the various fresh fruits. I’d almost forgotten about my eggs – almost.

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Celebrating at the National Cathedral

i-mollie-sm.jpgAn update from Mollie, a junior CCPA major:

We entered the taxi cab and headed to church. We drove through the college town of Georgetown and watched as Obama posters filled window after window.

Out-of-town guests and regular worshippers crowded the Washington National Cathedral. It was a sight to see with the beautiful stained-glass windows and astounding architecture. The gift store was filled with everything you can imagine.

We were welcomed by the community and sang and worshipped together. We listened as the excitement of President Elect Barack Obama embodied the thoughts and feelings of everyone. Our President will change on Tuesday, and as stated in the sermon today, “Rosa sat … So that Martin could walk … So that Obama could run … So that our children could fly.”

It is an exciting time, and a time of change. When church ended we headed back to the hotel in search of food, but apparently all of the restaurants are closed on Sundays. Food from the hotel “pantry” filled our stomachs to prepare us for the rest of the day.

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