WASHINGTON — In his second inaugural address, when President Barack Obama wasn’t discussing policy, he emphasized the motif “we the people.” I took a leaf out of Obama’s book — from his grassroots campaign to “collective action” rhetoric — and observed the ceremony via the people on the National Mall.
Maryland Institute College of Art freshman Taylor Smith-Hans, 18, stopped by inauguration on the way home from winter break with her classmate and friend Camille Hallin, also 18. Smith-Hans has thick bangs, ginger hair and a passion for the president.
“[Obama] stands for everything I believe in, especially gay rights,” she explained. Her enthusiasm hasn’t waned since 2008 — the California native cast her first ballot this cycle and coordinated phone banks.
Hallin, who missed voting by a month, disagreed.
“There was more energy last time,” she said. She has goals for Obama’s second term, which she listed as she looked at the sky through her sunglasses.
“Student loans need to be reformed,” Hallin concluded, “because I’m kind of screwed.”
Yariany Perez and Patricia Hines, both 19-year-old American University sophomores dressed in puffy jackets, left their dorms at 8:30 a.m. to make it to the Mall.
Perez’s parents hail from Colombia, though they’ve been in the country for 29 years and are United States citizens. She sees Obama’s second term as his opportunity to pass the DREAM Act. When I asked her if she voted for Obama, she raised her eyebrows and said, “Obviously.”
Hines attended the 2009 inauguration with her family, all Obama supporters. She liked the experience more now that she’s chosen to support Obama in her own right.
“I’m witnessing history,” she added.
I originally approached April Anderson, 68, because of the scarf around her neck with the Obama “O’s.” I stayed with her for nearly 10 minutes because she protested in front of the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2000 election, met Patrick Kennedy on Sunday night and came to inauguration with her husband on a whim.
Anderson, who took back her maiden name last year, fell in love with Obama when he spoke at John Kerry’s convention in 2004.
“I wish he was more assertive,” she admitted, “but we’re as liberal progressive as they come.”
Obama’s speech began at this time exactly, according to news outlets. Much has been said and much will be said about it — forceful rhetoric, progressive agenda, digs at House Republicans — but what I know is this: it was eerie how his words echoed throughout the Mall. I also remember this: some of the loudest cheers came as Obama pushed for gay rights, climate change and an end to war. The reference to Newtown commanded silence.
After the speech, I ventured over to a blonde man in a black peacoat because he stood alone, although I didn’t ask why. Department of Education employee Matt Valenus, 28, unsurprisingly wished that Obama had delved more into education policy.
“[The speech] wasn’t his best,” Valenus decided.
Carol Stinson, 54, of Upper Marlboro, Md., who is currently unemployed, likes that “the president is for all Americans.” Unlike Valenus, she saw nothing wrong with his speech. In fact, she thought it was “excellent.”
Stinson itched the corner of her blue-lined eye. “He touched on everything,” she added. Before I left, I asked if she wanted to say anything else. She looked at her friend, played with her Obama pin, looked back at me.
“He’s America’s diversity,” she said in all seriousness.
So as Obama stood on the podium and declared the need to “bridge the … [the Declaration’s] words with the realities of our time,” I stood on the ground and discovered seven others’ realities. And perhaps some of mine.