jumbotron: crowds of epic and unprecedented proportions, from jumbo, “extremely large,” and tron, “suffix denoting an instrument.” A neologism is born out of milestones.
Jumbotron saw the light yesterday to describe the unprecedented crowds at the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States and Joe Biden as vice president.At the media level, viewers outnumbered the record, made by the audiences of the Super Bowl.
The crowds, estimated at above 2 million, packed the environs of our nation’s capitol and the adjacent mall. There was breathing room but little else beyond that space, the people’s space, fully .007, or .7 percent, of the entire U.S. population.
Never has the District experienced such hordes—I heard of no incidence of violence or other loss of self-control, though bottlenecks lasted more than an hour and crowds were forced to endure long hikes and temperatures hovering around 25 degrees. One woman was seriously injured by a Metro train.
The sun shown as an omen of hope above the collective tribulations of the spectators, who received the opportunity to, and did boo Bush, another event that never before occurred at a presidential inauguration in this country.
Cheney, the arch decider, was appropriately confined to a wheelchair, in ironic contrast to his iron control over this country’s misfortunes for so long. In contrast to the crowds, who cheered every chance they could, Obama’s speech, following the awkward oath of office, was measured and restrained, like that of an ambitious, inexperienced but strong youth eying a set of 300-pound barbells.
Imagery was minimal—that of the reassuring hand reaching out to the inimical fist standing out from a speech in sharp contrast to the jubilant and eloquent cheerleading that describes his inspiring campaign rhetoric.
Now we’re here, but here is a large and polluted swamp, freezing and overcrowded, dusted with a hostile opposition temporarily quelled. The cameras visited Bush’s responses to such realistic pronouncements frequently. The now ex-president, predicted to be among the two or three worst in history, attempted to keep a straight face, probably thinking about the brush he would hack down in Crawford now that he was finished hacking at the foundations of freedom and universal ideals here and abroad.
So January 20, 2009, was a day of contrasts, too---the millions up against the one, the cold air versus the warmth of fellowship and hope—one will, countless goals.
Although I live in the District, I stayed home and watched the proceedings via feed and conventional tv, lacking tickets though I am a distant relative by marriage of both Diane Feinstein and Shaun Donovan, the new secretary of HUD. But we’re all related, after all.
I stayed home not wanting to walk so far to the mall, not having the grit to arrive at the entrance gates at midnight, marveling at those who did. Washington can be as cold in winter as it is hot in the summer.
I stayed home wondering if “Yes, we can” came along too late, where economists anticipate more plunging of stocks on Wall Street, a national debt in excess of our GDP, trillions replacing billions in everyday financial forecasts, a new, strong generation of wrath ignited by the recent devastation of Gaza, strong corporate lobbies that will inevitably block or heavily dilute the domestic changes the Obama campaign promised. . . .
Can means “have the ability to.” In other words, it implies an anticipated but not yet fulfilled action or passion.
And so, shivering within the walls of a well-heated but poorly insulated apartment, all I can anticipate is possibility, all I can anticipate is help for those 2 million here yesterday and all they represented back home, all I can foresee for a long time coming is hope, the bottom of the barrel of evils and tribulations that remains once the others have flown out.
Here it is not winged, that “thing with feathers.” It is that canned oxygen we are now hooked up to. Will we weather the cold and the pollution? Will freedom survive?
As Obama said yesterday, believe it or not, that is up to all of us.