Today is January 20, 2008. At noon, we are looking at exactly one year left until the next president, who I pray for all our sakes is a real president, is sworn into office.
I've already begun talking to DC-area friends about lodging for the festivities next year. If I'm able to go, it will be the third inauguration I've attended. Quick memories from the last two:
In 2001, I attended out of a sense akin to the Christian notion of "bearing witness". The election process the previous fall was so flawed and corrupted that I really felt like it was every American's duty to be present in order to remind those in power that we are always watching, that however broken the system had become, beneath that there is a mass of concerned citizens who are interested in the well being and prosperity not just of themselves, but of the ideals of our nation. I mingled with protesters, rode the metro with ANWR activists dressed up in bear costumes (no joke, that was totally awesome), saw black bloc anarchists hanging off of light poles, and took a lot of pictures that my travel companion was supposed to develop but lost. To this day, I'm very sad about the lost pictures of that trip.
The most riveting moment of the whole event happened in the few beats it took between Cheney's swearing in as veep and the beginning of Bush's oath of office. I didn't have tickets to be in the seating area at the front, so I was basically at the very back of this multi-tens-of-thousands of people crowd and had a great view of the generally Republican ticketed guests at the event. Bush stepped up, and there was a short moment where everyone was suddenly unsettled. It seemed like thousands of heads turned at once to scan the windows of the buildings around us, and I swear in that moment, it felt like everyone was waiting for a shot to ring out. I've been in a lot of crowds, but that brief interlude was the strangest moment of groupthink I've ever experienced. And then the oath began, and the day continued.
In 2004/2005, I co-produced a mixed music and spoken word event at The Black Cat in DC (the footwork was done by members of DC's MotherTongue collective) called "Inaugurate This", and oodles of artists in various genres performed to a sold out crowd. I watched the inauguration itself on television at a friend's apartment in the city in order to protect my voice from the cold weather (there was snow on the ground that day, just like today here in Atlanta) so my memories are more colored by the amazing event than the fact that some of the artists were herded into chain link "free speech zones" as they attempted to make their own statements on one of the most important of our nation's regular events.
Maybe the most important, in fact. Raucous crowds, energetic protests and all, what will happen one year from today, as it has been happening every four years for more than two centuries, is nothing short of a miracle: the peaceful transfer of power between parties and individuals who lust after nothing else.
If you wonder why I write so often about America as a dream that we've all bought into, this is a fine illustration. Men and women who have spent their entire lives accumulating power until they reach arguably the most influential and consequential position on the planet, willingly cede it to a successor they play no special role in choosing. Every time. If there is a clearer sign that America is a delusion that lifts even the most ambitious and venal to moments of sincere submission to something more important and enduring than themselves, I don't know what it is.
One year from today our nation will once again experience this renewing miracle. We should all take note of it. Whatever party or policies we find ourselves supporting, we should celebrate January 20 as the day America begins again and again, every fourth year, at noon on January 20.