Back in June, huge lines snaked through downtown and the impossibility of making it into Tom McCall Waterfront Park was abundantly clear. Up Columbia to Fourth, down Fourth to Main. Down Main to Second. Down Second to Salmon, and up Salmon to way past the building where I work up on 6th. Hubby and I gave up and went to Veritable Quandary a block away, sat outside with mimosas and beer and watched others making the walk, all the while knowing that they were headed the wrong direction. The end of the line was about a mile away in the other direction. We had a good seat. We were outside, it was sunny and maybe, just maybe, we would hear his speech. We would definitely hear the roar of the crowd.
But, we just couldn’t give up. We knew that the volunteers couldn’t manage the line forever. And so, the impossibility of getting to the park was tempered by a slight buzz and the courage that comes with it. We paid our bill and blended into the crowd, making our way to the park. I’d been in a similar line before. I wasn’t a huge fan of the speaker that day four years ago, but wanted to go hear Bon Jovi play and see Leonardo DiCaprio introduce John Kerry.
But this line was different. There was palpable electricity in the air and sparks in people’s eyes. People much like me who had never felt any sort of passion for politics, never seen anyone who could inspire the hope and excitement for something NEW that we were all craving. We all packed into the park, with Mt. Hood in the distance, a cloudless blue sky framing the bridges into downtown and boats dotting the riverfront, pulled into place for this event just as they would be doing a few weeks later for the Fourth of July Celebration.
Eighty thousand people. Some estimated it to be eighty-five or more, and given the fact that so many people were standing on Naito Parkway, blocking intersections and standing in the median, I certainly could believe it. And then, suddenly there he was, a man that I had come to admire, who so confidently carried on his shoulders the hopes and dreams of a nation longing for a return to who we used to be. I could barely see him. He was just a blue dot on a stage, in front of an American Flag and a jubilant crowd. But it didn’t matter.
You see, what was important wasn’t necessarily him, or hearing him speak. It was being with all these people, these complete strangers, who, for just this brief time felt like friends. I stood in front of a fifty-ish African American man and behind a Muslim woman with her two children, and as different as we all were, we were there for the same reason. I know that at the end of my life, it will remain one of my most memorable moments. It was the day that I saw a true leader speak, the man who – against all odds – would become our President six months later.
Today, I sat again watching the same man speak, this time from 3000 miles away. The company I work for opened up the auditorium in our building and streamed CNN in for everyone who wanted to watch. It was standing room only in there…and in the café on the first floor, as well as the other two rooms over at our Plaza building opened for the same reason. There was a quiet in the building and in the streets around us as the ceremony began. This time when he spoke, he was speaking from a place that people like me helped to put him. My support, my donations, my talking to people (some times more successful than others) - it felt as if it was my success. Yes We Can. Yes I Can.
I know some cynical people think that those like me are suffering from a herding mentality. That those of us who are so excited, so happy today, are lemmings who have just led our country to the edge of the cliff. That may be.
But today? I’m happy. I’m hopeful. And I’m excited about what is to come.