Column: Reflections on Two Inaugurations

Mom and son reprise their 2009 trip to Washington D.C. to see President Barack Obama sworn in for his second term

Editor’s note: Ann Arbor residents Laura Sky Brown and her son Henry attended the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. This year they returned to the nation’s capital, and filed periodic updates for The Chronicle along the way. This column contains their reflections on those trips, beginning with observations by Laura Sky Brown.

Laura Sky Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public  inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

Laura Sky Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

I was never the kind of person who went to mass events. I could not imagine lining up overnight for concert tickets, crowding in to Times Square to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, or sitting in the midst of thousands at a music festival.

So it’s a little bit amazing that I have now attended not one but two presidential inaugurations. Both times, I have been motivated almost entirely by the desire to give my middle son Henry a thrill. Henry is the guy among my four children who will sit down and watch “Hardball” and CNN with me, who has incisive commentary on political issues, and who understands how to listen to rhetoric and pull out the essential elements (and root out the crap buried inside). I harbor not-so-secret hopes that he will go into political life, although he is reserved and introverted – so as a strategist, not as a candidate.

At this inauguration – much as at the one in 2009 – the event for me was all about the people. We did get to see the President, we did get to be present at important national events, but what was most valuable was to see and interact with people from all over the country. We had our pictures taken by people from Florida, we stood in line behind people from Minnesota, and we sat across a cafe table from a New Yorker. We walked down the street behind a photographer from the White House press corps.

So many people brought little kids with them. You might say that is a crazy idea, perhaps even dangerous – taking a five-year-old or even a ten-year-old into a huge mass of people. You’d be wrong. Most of them had wide eyes that were taking it all in, and you could picture them in 50 years telling their grandchildren how they were there. What would I give, in retrospect, to have been dragged to the inauguration of Richard Nixon in the 1960s or to have seen the Carters get out of the car and walk in their inaugural parade when I was a teenager?

As for the inaugural speech, yes, we could have heard and seen it a lot better at home on MSNBC. But there is something so much better about hearing a speech sail through the air when you are standing in the crowd, knowing the speaker is right over there if you stand on tiptoe and squint. The bracing cool weather made it even better, somehow. I was riveted to the spot listening, thrilled and even a bit shocked to realize that I was hearing truly progressive ideas stated with firm confidence.

In the four short years between Henry at age 13 in 2009 and Henry at age 17 right now, our national climate has changed to the point where, yes, he just heard President Obama firmly support gay rights in the middle of the second inaugural address. I stood there thinking: Did I really hear the president of the United States name Stonewall alongside Selma? Yes, it really happened. As a kid with two moms, Henry really did stand next to me and hear Obama’s confident affirmation ringing over the loudspeakers, live. I can still hear it if I close my eyes.

We decided not to try to get into the parade crowds. Somehow, being present at the swearing-in ceremonies was exactly enough. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, people watching. We’re already talking about January 2017. I don’t know who will be standing with his or her hand on a Bible to be sworn in as our next president, but if it’s Hillary Clinton, we are so there.

Because of Henry, I am now the kind of person who would wade boldly into a crowd of a million to have an Inauguration Day experience. Not only that, but I would recommend it to anybody to try.

Henry Brown: “An Achievement of Shared Ideals”

Four years ago, on Christmas Day, my mom told me that together we would be attending the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. I was in eighth grade at the time, and the experience of being among hundreds of thousands of people in celebration of an achievement of shared ideals was something completely new and unprecedented for me.

Henry Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public inauguration ceremony of Barack Obama

Henry Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

It is now four years later, I am a senior in high school, and Obama has been re-elected for a second term as president. I paid very close attention to the president’s campaign and to the 2012 presidential election, and knew even before the day of the election that I would be attending the second inauguration of Barack Obama.

The greatest things about attending the inauguration this year are, first, that not only is a Democratic politician spending four more years as president, but that politician is Barack Obama, whom I believe to know the issues of both the United States and the world, and who has the best interest of the American people in mind. Second, the number of people who came out to Washington, D.C., to show support for the second term of the Obama administration was made only more fantastic by the mood of extreme excitement and happiness shared by everybody in the city.

This year we had tickets to what was called the “yellow zone,” which was a segment of the city close to the Capitol building – so for the actual inauguration, we were only about 500 feet from the Capitol. If not for the trees, I could have seen perfectly. I hope to go back to the next inauguration, by which time I will have voted in the election. I am so glad I was part of these two historical events.

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