Before today, I only had ever seen the Inauguration on TV. Maybe for five minutes before I switched channels.
I am here to tell you: the live event, the whole weekend, is NOTHING like what you see on the tube.
The cultural experience has far superceded the political one. It's more like Woodstock— or Wattstax— than a snoozy Episcopalian church service, which was my former impression.
It matters not one whit whether you have a ticket to one of the "viewing areas," or if you are going to a invitational Ball.
The whole city is having a ball. I just had a ball in the elevator. Every bar is a riot of bonhomie. Dancing in the streets, singing, WHATEVER feels good. No one is a stranger in DC this weekend. I could care less how close I get to the ceremony or dignitaries. Vox Populi!
I never dreamed I'd be at this event, I would've thought it preposterous. I am too much of a principled radical/leftist dilettante (you pick). The last time I believed in Democratic Party campaigns I was fourteen, and 1972 wiped that innocence away.
So... when my painter friends, A Thousand Artists, invited me here to make plein-air art on the Mall, it was such an unorthodox Burning-Man approach to the whole thing, it made me re-consider. We decided to go, regardless of who won, to be artists/witnesses/realists. I loved that. We're all going to be in white jumpsuits with our brushes and easals on The Mall, for the swearing-in and the Parade.
Now that I'm here, in city-wide counter-culture be-in, I can't imagine how GRIM a Romney Inauguration would've been.
Who on earth would've attended?
Stoked by all their paranoia, resentment, and deep sexual pathology, how could one even breathe? How would DC's waiters and bartenders and park rangers have managed not to throw up?
This is an epic American black community gathering; it's the "new tradition." Everyone who could get a plane, train, or pony fare is here. People in wheelchairs, people with all their kids, 90-year-old grandma's who went mano a mano with the Klan in Atlanta and Birmingham in the Sixties, EVERYONE.
"We held our breath for the first two years," said one woman in my art group. She's from Chicago.
The lingering anticipation of assassination— nobody likes to talk about heavy that is, how the memories seem like yesterday. It's inspiring to celebrate a black leader who's LIVING rather than one who's been crucified—but you hardly dare admit it.
I got the premonition today, that even after Obama's termed out, his inauguration or election day — one of them— is going to turn into a kind of Juneteenth party. The ritual is now required. It's bigger than him.
The mainstream (white) media and the DNC bend over backwards to show Obama as a president for all people, that he is not too black-black-black— but I for one, do not want the smelling salts and the reassuring pats.
2013 is the new-black-thank-you-very-much-I-like-it that-way. Please shut up, Wolf Blitzer, all of you. You have no idea what's going on.
I love being around an entire city that is free of gratuitious bigotry for one little weekend. No one is making casual racist remarks, everyone is Hail Fellow, Well Met! The country doesn't feel "divided," as they wail on TV-- it feels unified. There's no twitch-barrier. It reminds me of moving to Detroit in the 70s... all the hysterical white people had flown, so the only people left hanging out were cool. It was the most relaxed social atmosphere I've ever lived in.
There is one classic African-American contingent whom I'd call the alpha church ladies and mainstays of the Democratic machine. "Delta Sigma Theta, Presente!"
They are conservative in some respects but fierce in others. I got in one chat with a 70-year old who works at the UN. She was in an uproar about "sex traffiking"... well, as you can imagine, we bonded over slavery and female-as-chattel outrage. But she has not heard the sex worker/migrant argument about why the rescue industry is not the answer or why sex labor is righteous work. Let's go to her Spellman reunion and talk about that!
(She also referred to Susan Rice as "Susie," which privately thrilled me because how many "Susie's" are there these days, anyway?)
Second, you have the Black, (not necessarily American) contingent with a Panther-esque, Marley, X, Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis kinda style.. the left wing who didn't go nationalist. Many black socialists, geeks, queers, artists— or folks whom the Obama campaign shed the moment the right-wing breathed too hard. —But that rebuff is not keeping them from attending this scene; hell no!
That's what I keep saying: this is a culural event beyond its makers' perimeters. I am running into people here whom I saw at Huey Newton's open casket in Oakland. It's Old Home Week.
Not here: Ron Karenga-style nationalism-- I haven't seen a remnant of that, although maybe I'm not in right spot. (California Tangent: A lot of what happened to nationalism happened to lesbian separatism... bulk got watered down into Niche New Age consumerism).
Finally, there's the multi-racial youth-- who aren't defined by 60s. They have t-shirts that say "FORWARD" in rhinestones. They are dancing in the street, Gangnum Style meets Go-Go. There's a post-Obama, no-limits, politics-is-wack-but-this-is-THE-SCENE kinda feeling.
And with the most political, the vibe is:
"Ho ho ho— the Repugs tried to to restrict voting rights, and we just laughed, BRING IT ON; we ain't going back to Jim Crow. They THOUGHT we weren't going to vote. They don't know shit about us and they never will.
"...And now, it doesn't matter if they ever do."
It's that familiar sense that "Miss Anne is the Last To Know What's Going On." It's the black version of Nate Silver's statistics.
The feeling of confidence and largesse is contagious.
I know we're going to go back to the grind next week, the same old suspicions and outrage and injustice. La lutte continue. But these kind of occasions are important; they are utopian. We need them. They take on a life of their own, beyond their creators. Breathing oxygen like this, talking and touching like this, lets us feel, if only for a few minutes, how beautiful life is.