CNN NY Producer
It was hard to believe so many people could stand so still but when Barack Obama raised his hand to become President Barack Obama, the hundred of thousands standing around us simply froze. There were a few tears, shudders, hands clutching hands, shivering from the cold. But mostly it was just still.
That made it all the more astounding when the massive crowd went from silence to an eruption of cheers - wide-mouthed, high pitched, gut-busting, cheers. Folks spun around to watch each others' faces and lifted their children up high. The air was filled with the mist of frosty breaths. A few women tried to start a chant of “Obama” but it fizzled from the emotion in their voices.
The speech flowed from the podium in waves across the packed mall, with a low echo from the viewing monitors. It was answered by a distant thunder, the sound of far off applause from atop the mound of land beneath the Washington Monument. It almost sounded like a plane was flying over each time the crowd responded to the speech.
Whoever was directing the video coming into the big public monitors cut to a shot of outgoing Pres. George Bush when Obama talked and America living up to its ideals and the crowd let out a low boo, followed by a shush or two.
Then the speech rushed forward to conclusion as heads shook and camera’s flashed and occasionally someone would shout: “Yes We Can.” When he left it felt a little like the day after a big family holiday when the house feels kind of empty.
The intensive focus on the podium fell apart when the poet started. People began to mill around as if they had no idea what to do now that their long journeys from places as far flung as Guam had ended on this Mall. When the helicopter taking away ex President George Bush flew over the crowd seemed more like the stands at a Super Bowl after the home team had just won. “Hey Hey-ay Good bye,” they sang into the chilly Winter air.
But thoughts were sober as the people drifted off. The new president may be a history maker but he faces a formidable future and his speech was punctuated with warnings of the long climb ahead. So people said they were praying, managing expectations, taking a deep breath, thinking and rethinking the new role the new president had just assigned them.
A woman from South Carolina recounted desegregating her public school and wiping the spit of other children from her coat. She remembered her mother telling them to move to the rear of the local restaurant and being fearful of walking down her own downtown. And, when I asked her if she thought the new president could set aside a country’s fears and achieve even half his lengthy list of objectives, she tightened her face and said: “I have to keep repeating his name so it feels real. President BAH-rack O-bama. I thought I would never see the day that someone that looks like me would stand this ground. I will stand my ground and believe that anything is possible.”
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