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The Island’s inauguration journal

Submitted by on 1, January 21, 2009 – 9:00 amNo Comment

To say Alamedans were excited about the inauguration … well, I’d call that an understatement. We gathered around TV sets. We cried when Obama gave The Speech. And we hefted a celebratory glass in honor of our 44th President. The Island spent the day attending the Island’s inaugural events. Here’s our story. And check out our inauguration slideshow, top right.

Alameda Free Library, 8:03 a.m.
The excitement outside the library this morning is palpable. In less than an hour, Barack Hussein Obama will become the 44th President of the United States. Outside, a clutch of older women trades coffee orders. Inside, an overflow crowd sits glued to two giant TV screens tuned to CNN.

The crowd – which includes Councilman Frank Matarrese, City Manager Debra Kurita and some of the Alameda Democratic Club old guard – started gathering before the event’s 7:50 a.m. start time, the League of Women Voters of Alameda’s Kate Quick, an event organizer, says. And how did today’s crowd compare to a similar event for former President George Bush? Well, there wasn’t one. “Nobody thought of it,” Quick says.

David Burton says he knew something was up when his brother, who handed out Nixon pamphlets at age 12 and who worked for the first President George Bush, decided early on to volunteer for Obama’s campaign. But Burton, who helms Community Alliance for a Sustainable Alameda, says he fears people have pinned too many of their hopes on our new President.

But Deirdre Araujo, who says she was glad to see so many people gathered at the library says she’s hopeful people will take Obama’s lead by getting involved.

“I think people aren’t just going to hand (things) over to the government. I think they’ll take responsibility,” she says.

Crossing the Island, 8:25 a.m.
I’m in my car, a place I often find myself when history is happening. Just picked up coffee at Peet’s for an early-morning inauguration party at a friend’s. The place is surprisingly empty. One of the baristas on duty is sporting a faded Obama T-shirt.

I flip the channels on the radio dial and find a few places where it’s business as usual: the news stations, which are broadcasting traffic, weather, business. Hungry for up-to-the-minute inaugural details, I flip to NPR. Not to be unkind, but there’s nothing funnier than listening to the proper lot at public radio debate the color of Michelle Obama’s inaugural outfit (Mustard? Or perhaps a light buttercream?).

A crowd of about 20 women, some with little ones in tow, gathers at my friend’s West End bungalow. There’s laughter, banter, clapping. I’m struck by the stark contrast to the mood around the second George Bush’s inauguration – and more specifically, I’m reminded of the long, silent limousine ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, the gray day, the protesters kept at a distance from the motorcade.

There are Dick Cheney jokes, a lot of comments about Aretha Franklin’s hat. But all chatter ceases when Vice President Joe Biden and Obama take the oath of office, and Obama gives The Speech.

Suddenly, people are crying, and a roll of toilet paper is being passed around. Things are changing in a big way, and people are feeling it. The President has called on each one of us to help restore America to her former glory. It’s hard not to be moved. Suddenly, anything seems possible.

College of Alameda, 9:45 a.m.
Another inauguration event, another packed house. Students are jammed into the college’s Building F student lounge, catching the tail end of the swearing-in on a giant projector screen flanked by red, white and blue balloons and portraits of Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.

Next come the speeches from the school’s student leaders.

“It’s just an honor to witness history,” student body vice president Mali Watkins tells the assembled students. “It’s not a dream anymore. It’s reality.”

Watkins, 33, a business major and computer information science minor who said he will be concurrently enrolled at the University at California, Berkeley this fall, said that for the first time, the school’s population – which is very ethnically and racially diverse – stepped into the political process.

“I think what makes it even more exciting is, we did it. The younger voters, the minority voters,” he says.

Several of the students chatting outside are sporting T-shirts featuring not the latest pop stars, but our new President.

Back on the beat, 10:48 a.m.
I check in with Mitchelle Tanner, to see how a last-minute Day of Service event she set up for Monday went. She says 25 people showed up to help her pick up trash along the Island’s shore. Were people inspired to participate by now-President Obama’s call to service? “Definitely,” she says. “When we took the group photo, everyone shouted ‘Obama!’”

Tanner, who is gay, thinks Obama’s speech hit all the right notes, though she is less enthused about the choice of the Rev. Rick Warren, an opponent of gay marriage, to give the invocation.

“We’re the second-class citizens now,” Tanner says.

My mom calls to trade thoughts on The Speech, and I ask her how folks in the Western New York town where I grew up are feeling about today. From her telling, it’s pretty much the same excitement level as here in the Bay Area.

A few hours later, Obama’s motorcade makes its slow journey down Pennsylvania Avenue, past throngs of cheering people. CNN estimates the inauguration crowd at 2 million people.

Rhythmix Cultural Works, 6 p.m.
Another inaugural celebration, another big, happy crowd. There’s Obama art, a band is setting up upstairs and the chow line is out the door.

A lot of folks I’ve talked with today seem eager to move past the last eight years, but some of the artists are looking for one last hurrah. There’s a painted bus out front topped with a missile that says GOOD RIDDANCE BUSH, with INVESTIGATE WAR CRIMES on the side.

Tom Kennedy is lining up buckets of shoes to toss at a wheel that’s got head shots of prominent Bush Administration members. The game is called Shovelhead, he says, before wandering off to direct additional setup.

Around the way at Alameda Wine Company there’s a good crowd, celebrating the inaugural with flights of wine and free food. A group of young people is having an animated discussion of the inaugural and the administration that’s just passed.

City Council, 7:37 p.m.
Vice Mayor Doug deHaan is in charge today; Mayor Beverly Johnson is still in D.C., following the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting. He makes some brief remarks about the gravity of the day’s events.

And then the council gets back to the reality of running our Island city.

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