My day started at 4:30 AM and a hike to get a ride. The roads were already bustling at 6 AM and masses of people were moving towards the Mall. The designated driver could not reach the hotel for the traffic and security perimeter, so I grabbed a cab.
A small group of us met at a hotel near the convention center to gather instructions and go through security so that we could be swept before we arrived at the Capitol. At the appointed time, our group was whisked to the Capitol in a motorcade. I sat with Louis Susman, Greg Craig (White House Council to be), and John Cullerton (president of the Illinois Senate). Greg had 32 executive orders in his lap ready for the new President’s signature upon being sworn in and John was telling us about the proceedings he was leading to impeach the current Gov of Illinois. Great Stuff. Riding in the motorcade is a truly indescribable experience.
Once we arrived at the Senate, we were ushered to the Senate Foreign Relations committee room, where key members of the Senate meet and negotiate with foreign heads of state in private. The room is steeped in history.
We were a group of 25 people. Some friends of Obama, some key nominees for White House Jobs, and ten members of the campaign support team. The room came with the secretary to the committee and she gave a great description of the history of the room and furniture. I sat in then-Senator Obama’s Chair for the wait. As we waited, a few of us made a quick tour down the hall where we met all of the governors in attendance and many members of the House and Senate. The governors were yucking it up in the bathroom and telling some pretty funny jokes. The new Governor of Missouri noted it was a funny place for all of us to meet.
About 30 minutes before the ceremony began, we were taken out to the podium. The atmosphere and the crowd were electric. Although we were all told that we would be required to take our seat for the duration once on the podium, everyone wandered aimlessly around, pinching ourselves, making new friends, and seeing some familiar faces. Although I was on sensory overload, I was able to step back and take in the moment.
Crisp cold air, the gravity, and, of course, looking out at millions of well-wishers from around the globe, for as far as the eye and brain can register. It was good to see the Obama campaign’s closest advisors, his extended family, and some key supporters, all breathing in the same air, in the same place where one of the greatest moments in America was about to occur.
As we had taken our seats (with complimentary blankets to boot), the ceremony began with the procession and announcements. While I was viewing the same thing as the rest of the world from a different perspective, I had several thoughts and impressions. Pride for the sheer fact that our country conducts the transfer of power in this way. Disappointment in the crowds’ booes towards President Bush, but agreement with the singing to the Vice President ‘hey, hey, hey goodbye!’ Finally, my President-Elect takes the stage. My two years of effort comes home to roost. Although I was only one of the millions of others on the campaign, my great honor to be on the podium makes it feel even more real. I watched the swearing-in totally choked up, my eyes welling with tears.
During the National Anthem after the swearing-in, I was able to see the Flag above and beyond, through a small opening in the wall behind me. It was a special scene that I will never forget. I am sure that people were looking at me and wondering why I was facing the wall.
After the ceremony, I escaped my group and made my way unescorted back into the Capitol where I made my way around the building unhampered. I met and saw an awe-inspiring group of people: the Kennedy’s, Muhammad Ali, the Clinton clan, and Governor Deana. I had a great conversation with Governor Tim Kaine (who was as excited as me to be there). After wandering up to the room where the House leadership would dine with the President, I made my way out the front door. While I have total respect for the office of the President and had some mixed emotions about the trials and tribulations of the previous eight years, I could not contain my personal happiness to see this helicopter fly away with GWB.