We have been present at TWO!
Getting to the first felt like a ride to glory.
Being at the second–especially for me, a Brit at the party–was an enormous privilege.
Four years ago this week, Meredith walked into the VIP area just below the podium, turned round, looked down the mall and burst into tears.
It was solid people as far as the eye could see.
A moment to savor for Meredith, who had worked her heart out– first for John Kerry, then for Barack Obama.
Especially poignant because four years earlier, at Barack Obama’s first inauguration, she had a purple ticket–and got caught up in the notorious Purple Ticket Scandal, when thousands were blocked from getting in because the security arrangements broke down.
A bitterly disappointed Meredith sat on the stoop of our hosts’ house and wept–tears of frustration this time.
“Disappointing for me,” she said later, “devastating for the thousands of African Americans who had waited lifetimes to see a black president inaugurated.”
It had started so well.
The train journey from New York’s Penn Station to Washington’s Union Station turned into the most joyous ride I have ever been on.
The train was packed–not a seat to be had–and we all shared a single destination–we were headed to the promised land!
As we settled in our seats, the voices wafting across the aisle were unmistakably Irish; they belonged to a group of youngish men carrying guitar cases.
I whispered to Meredith,
“I think that’s an Irish band”
“Great. I hope you are going to play, guys!”
“We’ve just come from playing our hit song on the TODAY Show this morning.
“You wouldn’t be the Corrigan Brothers by any chance?”
The title had caught Meredith’s eye on the Internet back home–and the song had made her laugh.
“Hey boys, we’ve been recognized! This is Brian and Donnacha and I’m Ger.”‘
“Hello, I’m Meredith.” Another pause….
“You wouldn’t be Meredith Wheeler by any chance?”
She says at that point, the ears FELL OFF my head!
To Meredith’s astonishment and delight, they had been following The Obama Bridge Project that she’d been leading for months.
It was a brilliant scheme to promote Barack Obama’s bid for the Presidency.
Photos of Obama supporters holding banners on bridges large and small, iconic and unknown all over the world.
The idea being that Obama–with his international heritage and mixed race background–had the potential to bridge divides and be a symbol of HOPE.
The Corrigan band were traveling with Obama’s Irish cousin (eight times removed!), Henry Healy from Moneygall in County Offaly–who said he’d been invited to the inauguration. His trip was being filmed by a documentary film crew from Ireland.
The band played the whole of the three-hour journey and we arrived in Washington feeling that the party had begun!
Four years later we were in Washington D.C. for Obama’s second inauguration, almost on “spec”.
Meredith was hoping to pick up a ticket from the Democrats Abroad allocation–but nothing was guaranteed.
We stayed with our friends Irv and Iris Molotsky.
On the wall of their sitting room is a photo of them sitting within throwing distance of the podium at Barack Obama’a first Inauguration in 2009.
For years Irv was The New York Times Washington correspondent and although retired now, he still keeps his contacts on the inside.
A couple of days before the event, Irv went to pick up his tickets from the Congressional Press Office at the Capitol Building. He invited me along.
I had never been inside the building and eagerly accepted.
Meredith joined us and thanks to Irv’s friends in the press offices of the Senate and the House, we were treated to a tour of both houses of Congress.
Standing in the press gallery of the House of Representatives sent shivers down my back.
In the private behind-the-scene press office, abolitionist and supporter of women’s suffrage, Frederick Douglas is still remembered–the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States. The passing of the 13th amendment–abolishing slavery–happened in the space below us on 31st January 1865,
In two days time–January 20th, 2013, the second Inauguration of a black President would take place.
And as it turned out, we witnessed it at close hand.
Irv’s friends came up trumps (whoops!) and found us seats in the row seven–next to Irv and Iris–(two rows behind Stevie Wonder and just in front of Katie Perry!).
It felt like touching history.
Indeed–an enormous privilege.
We attended both Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
He will be missed.