SOL: Hanging at the mall with Barry …

… you know, and about two million of our closest friends …

Here was my day on the 20th:

Up early-early, trek out to the Shady Grove metro to get the train into DC.

Met a gang of very enthusiastic young black people from New Jersey on the metro.  They were down in DC to sell their beautifully silk-screened Obama hoodies and tote bags.  (“Come on, sis, you got to support us enterprising black folk!” — And, to whoever bought the white hoodie with the brown and gold Obama print: wear it well, that thing had my name all over it!)

Changed trains at Metro Center, red line to orange.  Met an older man from Georgia on the train with his son.  They were on their way home, having gone out to the mall already and been turned away.  They insisted none of us would get in, but I was determined.  I told them to come with me because there was no way I wasn’t getting in.  But they resisted my lure and headed on their way.

Off at Federal Center Southwest where I had my back-of-the-line encounter with the angry man.  Upstairs where I found myself in a sea of people who all turn out to be ticket holders … which was when I started to worry that I really might not get in.

Walked from Federal Center back to the mall entrance at L’Enfant Plaza.  On the way, I passed dozens of tour buses.   One bus was completely decked out in Obama and DC images.  It had “USA Three-Fifths” on the side, which made me wonder if there was an organization somehow connected to the compromise. But I’ve searched online and not found anything. If any of you know about it, please clue me in.

The closer I got to the mall, the more people I saw who’d been turned away.  They insisted that none of us would get in because was no one being allowed to enter so close to the Capitol because all of the sections were full.  But I didn’t turn back.  I decided to believe it would not be true that I would go all that way and not get exactly what I wanted.  Cocky, yes, but I just felt sure.

Reached the entrance, where I saw a big LED sign announcing that the section was full and police officers in front of metal barriers closing off the entrance to the mall.  They were sending people down to the 21st Street entrance … down nearly all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, which is something like two miles away, but also telling them there was no guarantee they’d get in at that point, either.  (Ok, here I had a moment of panic.)


I am not above manipulating a situation when it’s really important.  Years ago my left knee was damaged in an accident.  This damage means that I sometimes walk with a cane.  When I travel, I carry the cane, just in case.  When it’s icy out, I carry the cane, just in case.  Well, on Tuesday I was away from home and there was ice on the ground, so I was carrying my cane.  I was carrying it, not walking with it, but that was easily changed.

I approached the barricade, leaning on my cane.  I spoke to the gatekeeper:

“Oh, officer, I’ve already walked quite a long way, and you can see I have some mobility issues.  Are you really going to make me walk all the way down to the next entrance?”  Oh, I know.  Totally shameful.  But in this case, I was totally shameless.

The policeman looked me over.  “Are you alone?”

I was, but I could tell he was going to let me through, so I thought I should share the wealth.  There was a black woman to my left who also looked to be alone.  “Oh, just me and my cousin,” I said.

He looked from me to her and back again, then waved us in.

In!  I kept walking with the cane until I was clear of the area where the police officer could see me, then I made my way forward a bit more quickly.  I was up near the first of the jumbotrons.  The people closest to me were a big gang from California, a family reunion group from Ohio, three carloads of friends from South Carolina, a couple from Holland and a bevy of church ladies from Pennsylvania.

It was C-O-L-D, but not as cold as I’d feared.  The forecast had said the wind would make it feel like 7º but it never felt that cold, thank goodness.  We watched, we cheered, we cried, we sang, we cheered some more, we laughed, we jumped around to keep warm, and then we left.

I walked down to the Lincoln Memorial — couldn’t go all the way to DC and not stop over and see Father Abraham, especially not while I’m in the middle of reading Team of Rivals — and after that I was just too cold to hang out any longer.  I found my way to a train and got myself back to Shady Grove.

Things I loved:

  • Seeing the faces of the older black people standing around me — the proud, happy, fierce faces of all those beautiful people.
  • Seeing people of all ages, colors, and nationalities.
  • Getting to be in a flag-waving crowd and not feeling out of place.
  • The church ladies’ affirmative response to Aretha’s utterly fabulous hat.
  • The way my head felt so light and my heart so overstuffed when The Man took the oath.
  • Meeting so many people from so many places.  In addition to the ones standing closest to me, I met people from New York City, Washington State, Canada, England, Germany, France and Mexico.
  • Feeling as though I was part of one giant, joyous person, laughing and crying and cheering as one.
  • Michelle!
  • The seventeen bazillion different souvenirs on offer everywhere you looked (my favorite was the black t-shirt with Barack ripping open the front of his suit to reveal the Superman “S”).
  • Crying when Aretha sang.
  • Singing The Star Spangled Banner with more heart and enthusiasm than at any other time in my life.
  • Curling up on my mom’s couch to watch the parade for a couple of hours before rushing to get the bus back home.
  • My boss not hesitating even a second when I asked to take Tuesday off.

Oh, I had a day.  And, yes, I’d have enjoyed watching it at school with my students.  That would have been fabulous, too.  But I just had such a need to be there.  It was a little weird to go alone, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that keep me from going.  This was a present I gave myself … and I’m so grateful for it!

Fear of a Black Planet

In a minute I will write about the wacky, hope-fueled lovefest that was my experience of inauguration on Tuesday, but this little story has to be gotten out of the way first.

The crush of people was crazy on the way to the Mall.  I got off the metro at Federal Center Southwest.  People were everywhere, all edging slowly toward the escalators.  A space opened in the mob, and I moved to step into it.

“No cutting in line.”

This from an older white man who was also looking to step into the space.  I thought he must be joking.  After all, there was absolutely nothing resembling a line on that platform.  I started to laugh, but choked on it when he pushed past me and snarled:

“Get to the back where you belong.”

It stunned me, shut off my brain for a nanosecond.

“Did you really just say, get to the back where. you. belong?  Really?”

“That’s right.  What do you think you are, special?”

“Actually yes, in fact.  I am special.  And you’re special, too.  We’re all special.  And this is definitely not the day to be an asshole fuss, sir.”

I am still incredulous, still truly amazed that someone actually said those words.  To me.  On the day we inaugurated a black man.  Which is silly, I know.  Of course someone could say those words.  To me.  Of course it could happen on that day.

This post’s title may seem a little strong, but am I far off the mark?  In that man’s eyes wasn’t I just some uppity black woman thinking the reality of Mr. My New President gave me the right to step in front of him?  Wasn’t my lack of deference the knell of doom for a world and a life that he and plenty of other people have cherished?  Isn’t this the grinding fear of people who are horrified by the blackness of the American president? 

There will be no ‘keeping us down on the farm’ now.


I think I have Public Enemy on the brain these days.  I couldn’t help but think of this album during my experience with Janelle and Jamar.  It was as if we were acting out our own video remake of “911 Is a Joke.”  Here’s the second of the videos Spike Lee made for “Fight the Power” (featuring a two-second cameo by Tawana Brawley):

It’s fun to see Chuck D and Professor Griff twenty years younger (Griff looks like a baby!), and to remember that there was a time when Flava Flav was ridiculous but relevent as opposed to the grotesque caricature he’s become.

Last Minute Plans …

+ one Griot Girl + a crazy dash for Penn Station = I’m going to the inauguration!!

No, seriously.  Pat had asked what I was going to do on Tuesday.  I figured I’d be in New York, watching on the big TV with my students, trying not to cry too hysterically in front of them.  I knew I wanted to be in DC, but didn’t think I could pull it off.

And I’m still not sure I’ll pull it off … but I’m on my way all the same.  About half a dozen of my friends were supposed to be going, but one by one they’ve all decided to stay home.  I know a few other folks who’ll be down here, but have no way of getting in touch with them now that they aren’t in Brooklyn.  Feh.

So I’m on my own … with millions of people.  A person who hates crowds crammed into what will surely be the biggest crowd I’ll ever be in.  Six thousand to a porta-john.  Oh, this should be interesting.

But really, how could I not come?  I’d talked myself out of it, told myself it wasn’t necessary for me to actually be in the same place as The Man on The Day.  But the closer Tuesday got …

I will not be ‘liveblogging’ this event.  I will be too busy laughing, crying, taking pictures and keeping warm.  I’m back in Brooklyn Wednesday morning at 3am, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say then.  Happy inauguration, everybody!

Domino Effect

I have a student I’m going to call “Benny.”  He’s a young-ish Puerto Rican guy who has taken classes at my day job off and on for three years.  Mostly off.  He’s always been a bit of a screw up: in trouble, smoking too much pot, disappearing for days, weeks, whole semesters.  He’s one of the students you know needs the help, needs the services, needs the grounding that thinking he’s working toward his GED can give.  At the same time, he’s one of the ones who makes us wonder if he’s being well served by the program.

He drives Lena, my assistant, crazy.  She finds him utterly annoying and would be only to happy to see him expelled … not that we actually ever ‘expel’ students, but still.  He’s always driven me a little crazy, too, but there’s a soft place in my heart for him, no matter what he does.  (Yes, I have a lot of soft places in my heart.  Yes, I am the word ‘pushover’ made flesh.  What’s your point?)

He is what Lena calls one of my ‘benditos,’ the ones who I make excuses and allowances for because it’s so obvious that no one else does and they could use a little kindness and forgiveness and understanding.  (She has her benditos, too.  I’m not the only soft-touch in town.) So, because of Lena’s name for him, I’m calling him Benny.

When I walked into orientation for my night class in September, there was Benny, enrolled in that other program, enrolled in my class.  I asked if he was leaving the day class, and he said no.  And that ‘no’ meant that he would be my student day and evening.  Because yes, I am now teaching in the morning and at night.

(This is another gift from our funding loss: if we wanted the Pre-GED class to go on, I needed to teach it because we have no more funding for it.  And, while I am absolutely loving my day class, teaching nine hours in the morning makes it very hard for me to do my full-time program director job.  Just saying.)

Now that Benny is my student, I am seeing more every day just how right I’ve been to have faith in him.  He’s had consistent attendance and he’s an active participant.  What’s more, he knows so. much. stuff.  About world history, about politics.  It’s very impressive.  And he’s been loving the conversations we’ve had in class about the elections.    And I’ve really enjoyed having him in both of my classes.

Last Thursday night when he came to class was the first time he was seeing me since Obama had become our president [sigh of relief and joy!], and he wanted to talk.  At first I tried to get him settled into the writing activity, but I gave that up.  Why?  Because Benny asked what a person needed to be to be president, you know, legally-speaking.  And before I could start to answer, he got a look of amazement on his face and said:

“You see what this man has done?  He even has me thinking about what could be possible!”

Yeah.  Exactly.  I don’t really have words to say how much that moved me.

So we talked about rules like the one about having to be 35 … and suddenly Manny (a young Mexican man who almost never speaks) says, “I’ve got two out of three.  I’m just not 35 yet.”  And I suggested that it would be hard for him to wake up on his 35th birthday and suddenly become president, that there were things he should maybe be doing during the next 15 years to get himself ready.

Things?  Like what?  Turns out the idea of local politics has never really occurred to them.  The idea of any kind of activism has never really occurred to them.   We talked about the fact that a job like Benny’s — working for a small, way-left grassroots organization in the neighborhood — can be a good first step toward a career in politics.  After all, our new president was a community organizer once … We talked about the Community Board (which they are looking up for homework) and the City Council (more homework), about mayors and governors and state legislators … and Jorge (another young Mexican man who is even more silent than Manny) says, “So I could decide to run for one of these local offices?”  And Benny says, “Can’t you see it?  All of us in politics, all of us becoming politicians?  I never even thought about something like this.”

You see what this man has done?

Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk …

… you got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gon to have a dream come true?

Yeah.  I got to sing that in high school when I played Bloody Mary in South Pacific, but it fits so perfectly with where I’ve been these last couple of days.

Tonight I got the most beautiful email from my most beautiful mother:

Hi my dear, dear children,

Giving birth to all 3 of you has always been the most wonderful, awesome thing that has ever happened to me, and now a 4th that I could not believe was possible or that I would live to see it has happened: We have an African-American president. I cried when I voted at 7:15 a.m. that morning, and in the evening I attended the democratic party at _______, and when it was announced that Obama had won, I cried again. We all screamed, cried, hugged strange people, danced, and did it again. It will be so wonderful to have a man as president who is downright smart and intelligent and with feelings for the people. 8 years of being led by stupidity was quite enough.

I am so glad I left my comfort level of not being able to talk politics with people and joined the Obama headquarters in talking to people across the nation that I did not know, especially in Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and a lot of them were republicans. Sometimes it was hard to have people call me names, but it was worth it when I talked to people who were supporters. I will do it again whenever I feel the candidate is worth the office.

President-elect Barack Obama has given me so much hope that I believe all things are possible. He came out of nowhere, except for that speech in 2004, but we didn’t hear from him again until he decided to run. I didn’t believe it was possible, and I worried about his safety the entire time he campaigned.

I prayed every night for him and his wonderful family, and now I’m praying for him to prove he can do the job and for his and his family’s continued safety. I’m going to be on my knees for him almost as much as I am for my family.

For almost 2 months, every day I have worn my cap with Obama buttons covering it, and my jacket always had a button and usually I had an Obama shirt. Everywhere I went, I was making a statement, and I was so proud of it. Now I feel naked without them. I’ll have to think of another cause to push.

I just wanted to share this amazing feeling I’m having, and I don’t think I’ll be over it for quite a while. It’s all so new and wonderful.

Yes, exactly.  This, of course, made me cry some more.  I’ve been crying (and laughing and feeling so happy I could spontaneously combust) for nearly 48 hours.  There’s definitely a Fizzy Lifting Gas component to this whole making history thing!