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Dispatch From D.C.: ...And Then We Came To The End Beginning

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jan 23, 2009 10:10PM

The initial planning stages of our inauguration coverage began on November 5, 2008. After months of prep, paper work, applications, and urgent calls to friends looking for a couch to crash, the moment finally arrived and just like that, it was all over. After five straight days of traveling and sprinting around D.C., Wednesday was spent recovering and, for some of us, traveling once more. With President Obama now sworn in twice for good measure, he's hit the ground running, something extremely difficult for us after a weekend of scurrying around the city, trying to cover as much as possible. Tankboy, Lizz, and Karl have returned safely to Chicago and by the time this post goes live, my plane should hopefully be on its approach to Midway. But before I left town, I got a chance to scope out Washington D.C. in its own recovery mode. For the first time since I arrived, I had a chance to relax and take some time to check out some monuments and how the deconstruction of the National Mall was going.

Workmen were scattered about the park collecting barriers from some areas, but - strangely - not others. There was still a very healthy crowd at the Lincoln Memorial (Jefferson Memorial not so much) and the mall was swarming with large groups. Lost in the insanity of inauguration coverage for me was the fact that yesterday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, meaning the Mall was once again teeming with thousands of people, but for a much different event. Instead of people still wandering around in a euphoric Inaugural haze, proudly displaying their Obama hats and buttons, the Mall was swarming with thousands of chanting teenagers waving placards depicting dead fetus parts. While startling to the uninformed (which would be me), it seemed, somehow, appropriate. The world was not stopping to bask in the afterglow of the inauguration; it couldn’t afford to. While I was in my recovery stupor, the rest of the world kept spinning and moving forward, as did our president. It was down to business and while only time will tell how effective his early decisions prove, there was no dwelling on the days before, only moving onward.

We’re at the end of our trip, exhausted but delighted to have been a part of history and to have been able to share the experience with you. We slept on couches, hustling across town at all hours of the day and night, and occasionally decided to forgo sleep for the sake of an event when all we really wanted to do was just take a nap. We were spurred on by the excitement of the occasion, of the moments we encountered: watching Bruce Springsteen sing "This Land is Your Land" with legendary folk singer Pete Seeger on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, seeing Andrew Bird light up the stage of the Black Cat, witnessing the swearing in both up close with the rest of the press and from afar with the multitudes, trying to catch a glimpse of the parade, hitting various balls and galas, and just - in general - soaking it in.

But while our journey is over, President Obama's is just beginning. And what do we take from this week? One thing was the joyous nature of the celebration. If the crowd really did number 1.8 million as has been tossed about, that would be enough to make the crowd the fifth largest city in the United States (between Houston and Philly). And one thing we noticed was that no matter how large the crowds or how long the wait, people were still of a buoyant, optimistic mood. For all the criticism of the large events in the wake of economic turmoil, most didn't seem to mind or even care. They, too, were caught up in the history of the event, not the grandeur. Another was the way the attendees embraced Obama's message of shouldering their share of the responsibility for his promised "change." The theme this week was that change won't happen unless we make it happen. Here's hoping that enthusiasm doesn't last just a week and fade with the feelings from Tuesday.

And now, as we turn our attention away from this week and back to all the other things happening in Chicago (the Blagojevich Trial, the weather, etc.) it's time for us, like everyone else, to move on. It's been popular to call this administration the Windy City White House (something even we’re guilty of). But, as Karl and several others have said this week, while we'll always have a vested interest, Obama is no longer "ours." He hasn't been "just ours" for a while; it’s time for him to lead the nation, not just Illinois, not just Chicago. And for all the cries of this week being a coronation instead of a celebration, there’s that enthusiasm, the likes of which many of us have never seen in our lifetime. Seeing the emotion from so many attendees, the tears and joy, was more moving than I could have ever expected. I'm lucky enough to have two parents who grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights years, so I can hear first-hand about what was happening. They're white, however, so while I appreciate their perspective of having grown up during that time, I'll never be able to fully understand the hardships of the elderly black woman who stood in the Metro line with me after the ceremony. But after seeing her face, her tears, and hearing her relive the swearing in that had just occurred, I have a little better understanding of the joy she felt for a day she thought would never come.

In four or eight years time, we’ll look back at the this moment and reflect on the successes and failures of President Barack Hussein Obama. We’ll look back to this week as the moment when it all began and we’ll be able to put the events of this week into some sort of historic perspective. But, for the time being, all we have to go on is now. And right now, we know that we wouldn’t trade our experiences this week for anything in the world.

If you'd like to relive any of our Dispatches: Sunday's Preps, The We Are One concert, The Swearing In, Further Thoughts On the Swearing In, The Home States Ball, The Mid-Atlantic Ball, Lizz and Jim hit the Big Shoulders Ball, Jim's View From The Cheap Seats

One final moment of self-indulgence. Thanks to the following for making this all possible: Steven & Dale, Emily & Zoe, and Lisa & Katya, Chuck Sudo and the fantastic Chicagoist staff who kept things going on here while we were away, Tankboy, Lizz, Karl, and Kevin for their constant stream of texts and calls which helped us coordinate in the midst of chaos, and for turkey chili, Sommer Mathis and our pals at sister site DCist for their helpful tips and sharing, Our friends at our mother site in New York (Jen, Jake, Tien, and Neil) for their help and support, Scott Smith, and finally thanks to you for reading and following along with us and allowing us to indulge in our excitement at being part of the historic week and sharing it with you. We'll be back to full force on Monday.