January 19th, 2009
10:03 AM ET

Sunday at the Mall with George

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/18/obama.sunday/art.lincoln.memorial.grab.cnn.jpg caption="Thousands gather Sunday afternoon on the National Mall in Washington."]

Katherine Lanpher
Writer and Broadcaster

Did you see the broadcast of the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial today? Did you see the camera shot that stretched all the way back to the Washington Monument where people were just happy to get a glimpse of the Jumbotron?

That would be me.

Even in the back, people were singing along with Bono, leaning out of trees, hoisting kids on their shoulders and holding up every camera device known to this century. You caught on pretty quickly that the point wasn't so much to see the concert as to be part of this grand communal event, a sing-along civics hootenanny.

Not that there wasn't commerce. Walking along Connecticut Avenue and then on to the mall itself, you passed a dizzying array of Obama merchandise. One man held up a red-and-white-and-blue basketball, intoning "A ball you can believe in" while another offered commemorative bookmarks, "the perfect gift for a reader." The friend I was with called it the "Obama-mall."

And you had to love the man who was hawking Obama action figures, helpfully reminding "keep it in the box, people, keep it in the box, someday this will be valuable."
I've read reports that said the crowd wasn't at capacity, but they were turning people away from the actual concert grounds before I even arrived – sometime around Renee Fleming – and then resigned myself to the crowd and its pleasures.

The weather was balmy compared to the previous days and the mood was mellow. Sure, you lost your view of the Jumbotron whenever a tall guy in a hat walked by, but then the view would reappear, sort of the way clouds can skid across the sun. And when the president-elect appeared, the crowd grew respectfully quiet, yearning to listen. I've never heard that many people listen at the same time.

I got teary-eyed when the people around me started to sing "in the name of love" with Bono, but it was during the group rendition of "This Land is Your Land" when I realized that tears were rolling down my face.

It didn't feel like a partisan event, it felt more like a church service, a non-denominational articulation of, yes, hope, a word that usually sticks to my teeth like taffy because it can sound so hackneyed. But not when you are surrounded by so many people singing the same words you are, not when you realize that you started out your walk toward the concert by sticking a miniature American flag in your belt just because it seemed the thing to do, to celebrate the possibilities of what your country is and could be.

Sure, if you were at home, you got a better view of the concert. But not necessarily of the country.

Editor's Note: Katherine Lanpher is the author of the memoir “Leap Days.” She is a contributing editor for More magazine and a substitute host on public radio’s The Takeaway (www.thetakeaway.org). A former host of “The Al Franken Show” on Air America, she moved to New York five years ago after many years in Minnesota.

Filed under: Inauguration • Katherine Lanpher
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. journalista

    And don't forget the tshirts, Katherine! What about the tshirts with the photo stolen from Time magazine? "One for $10, two for $15..."

    Brilliant observations of the day.

    January 19, 2009 at 12:13 pm |
  2. Isabel, RJ, Brazil

    AC and team,
    The coverage is simply wonderfuuuul!

    The articles are excellent and better than the coverage here.

    I look forward to more news; sometimes even I lose myself to the time zone.

    January 19, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  3. frieda

    “Responsibility” is a great theme for the Inaugural Address. But how does that apply to Tim Geithner? To Charlie Rangel and Chris Dodd? Once you set down the marker for a new standard of conduct people my expect you to live up to it.

    January 19, 2009 at 11:29 am |
  4. Isabel, RJ, Brazil

    Luther King dreamed with an America without racial segregation. And Obama is the realization of that dream.
    Obama will have four years to repair the Earth.
    You, the American people are doing a wonderful party. Congratulations to democracy.

    January 19, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  5. JC- Los Angeles

    While the festivities are great and tomorrow's inauguration historical, justified and long overdue, Barack Obama needs to quickly change the anything goes culture of corruption and he should start with Timothy Geithner.

    For eight years there has been a colossal lack of oversight at all levels of government and industry; we now hear that Geithner, the Treasury secretary nominee, failed to pay social security taxes.

    If Obama failes to remove Geithner from consideration for the Treasury post, he will simply be an author, speech giver and face man rather than a man of conviction.

    January 19, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  6. Paul B

    That was a great article and I enjoyed your camera view yesterday

    January 19, 2009 at 10:41 am |