[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."]
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.
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