Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hangover + Change = Changeover (what I have)

so Tuesday night--where were you?

I was in Berlin, Obama's city, the only place abroad where he heald such a speech. I had once again been tipped off via my listserv of a party sponsored by Democrats Abroad and Republicans in Berlin at this big old honking nightclub called Goya:

This is the interior--big and swank, eh?

Now, I wanted to be cool, so rather than choosing to show up at 4, when the doors opened, I brought Stephan and Kristine (German buddy and flatmate respectively) to Goya at 4:30 to see...CROWDS STRETCHED AROUND THE BLOCK. Luckily we had reserved tickets, but still, we were outside for an hour while news cameras circulated, asking random line-occupiers how they felt and whatnot. I was so excited but also really scared we wouldn't make it in, but we did and just in time to see Aretha in the coolest hat I have seen in a while ROCK THE FRICK OUT on a massive screen. The club wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be, but that is probably because it had 3 floors and a bunch of satellite rooms, though we were in the main room, watching from a relatively good place.

Biden's being sworn in here, but imagine the place full of this
well-scrubbed crowd of Germans, Americans and press

So biden was sworn in, looking well-groomed, spritely in comparison with Cheney, and with the whitest teeth I've seen in a while, and then came the John Williams tribute to Aaron Copeland. Having sung one of the songs that appeared in the mashup (which I don't remember the name of but it has the alto line "give thanks for<> to <> the grain"'s been a while since I sang it!), I can say I think Copeland did it better, but to see Perlman and Yo-yo Ma practice their craft was a real treat. This was also where the sentimental side of me started creeping into the excited side. I could still feel my heart beating through my clothes, and my throat was already dry from yelling with excitement, but the song set up the "Schmalz" for the swearing-in of the first African American president.
Impressions from the swearing-in:
* The girls skipped to the adorable is that

*Michelle: couldn't be more Kennedy if she tried, but I don't think Jackie could have pulled off that shade of yellow, so hats off
*Obama said his name too early; he's eager to get at his work!!

*Roberts is a Bush appointee...should we have expected him to get the oath right...really?! I mean, the guy has a few screws loose.

*I am still mad as heck at Roberts even if he is disabled due to his overwhelming case of Incompetensia Majora.

Then the room I was in went up in screams. I was hugging people as hard as I could, my eyes were getting was a beautiful moment.

Roomie and Stephan at Obama-fest 2K9. A most rock-tageous time!

The next events were a bit of a blur, but somehow we made it to the Inauguration speech, which I have to say, kind of harshed my buzz for a while. There he was talking about how we got ourselves into this bad situation, how he faces a tough road ahead, how things are still not right, and I was thinking "hey, it's not even your first day...can we not wallow in depression, PLEASE? There's quite some time to do that later" but it was realistic and impressed the Germans in the crowd (quelle suprise if you've ever seen a Fassbinder movie). My favorite parts of the speech were yet to come: the parts where he called out people specifically (Psst, Mugabe...THAT WAS YOU HE TALKED ABOUT!) and then went on to talk about how great America is.

Obama's inaugural speech, as witnessed at Goya

Let me say this, when Bush said this kind of stuff I felt embarrassed, but when Obama said that we were ready to lead again, he was not greeted in Goya by awkward silences but by an explosion of cheers. It's like he's given us license to be loud and proud again, which is what we all kind of secretly wanted. And whenever I saw the face of African Americans in the crowd, especially older ones, I thought about all the shit that they had to go through just for something they could not control, their skin color. I thought of the surviving members of the Little Rock 9 school integrationists, who faced down the military to help America move forward, I thought of all that had to happen for this day to come, and I leaned my head on K.'s shoulder and started to silently tear up.
When I explained this moment yesterday to my students in year 13, one of them came up to me and said " I found your thoughts on it...mmm...sehr bewegend." That means "very moving." Everyone though who has sat through a US history class was getting goosebumps at that moment. His speech was everything it had to be and nothing it did not. It wasn't a Lincoln's Second, but it was Obama's First, and that was good enough for me.

Interestingly enough, this was the first inaugural speech to actually say the word "Muslim," and we had all been clapping at some comment he made just before, but when he said "To the leaders of the Muslim world"--A VERY QUICK SILENCE. There was this air of anticipation through much of the speech, of "what's he going to say next?"

The poet was I think a rather smart move. Obama being a guy who doesn't really like to talk about race (but "A More Perfect Union" is one of the best speeches made after 1968 on the subject), left the enumeration of what this all means to this poet. Granted, she wasn't that great...the poem went on a bit too long and didn't really have the structure I would have liked, but she was the one who said to the nation "HEY! Look over here! African American...TOTALLY PRESIDENT!"

And of course the benediction. Here again I cried. This was because this man had seen the worst of the worst, this old preacher who had fought to integrate with MLK. He was well on in years, and his voice shook with either age or emotion, both of which carry more meaning that mine years or tears. He prayed not in the style of Warren (who I am happy to say I turned my back on when he prayed, though I did say the "our father" like a good Lutheran) but in the African American theological tradition, and the whole room erupted in yells and laughter when he ended it as he did. Then the "Amen." This was another goosebump moment, because we were saying "Amen" loudly and with genuine emotion, a release experienced not just by the thousand or so of us but by millions around the world. That "Amen" said with soul felt like we were vocally throwing prayers of hope into the ether to whatever deity. Anyone who has said "Amen" in the "gospel" style and not the Catholic one will agree, it can feel quite goofy to say it the first time, but it also has a momentum to it, this "Amen," that is hard to beat.
Then came the speeches from the locals. The Dems in Berlin gave a suitable speech that gave us all the chance to go get a beer (we did), but then came the "nonpartisan" part of the night when the representative for Republicans in Berlin, a man in a "hail Satan" red tie and slicked back hair took the stage. Everyone got quiet; this man must have had juevos of steel. Then he started speaking. As he began we noticed an accent, but it took about 3 seconds to figure out where it was coming from


And not just a German, but an AWKWARD German. Like, the thickest accent I've heard (most Germans have quasi-British accents), the most hawkish statements ("it is a statistical fact that we are safer now, after Bush, from terror") I'd heard in a while. Of course he was booed like you wouldn't believe. I booed too, I mean, as a German whose CDU, conservative party, balks at Bush policies, he should know better. Stephan too was scandalized:

Here is my thinking
, there is a party in Germany called the "Republikaner"...they make American Republicans look like a Berkley drum circle. So maybe he was a Republikaner and just translated his party affiliation wrong. That's all I can think of, but then again, if he's a Republican Abroad, that means he must like be able to vote in the States, right...? Maybe he married into this? I don't know. I'm accepting explanations if you guys want to help me figure this out.

Then the screens came back to CNN, and we watched the helicopter leave, singing "Na Na Na! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!" and feeling a weight off. The picture after was priceless. If you've seen Deep Impact, Armageddon, or even any decent horror movie there's always that scene at the end where the survivors stand somewhere with a decent view, staring into the hellscape/waterworld/zombie-destroyed Pennsylvania town that their world has become, and they hold hands and say something along the lines of "well, there's a lot of work to do." You know these scenes... I think there was one in War of the Worlds too, the "hope for a new tomorrow" scene. This was reenacted as the Bidens and Obamas stood there watching the last zombie leave their city and looking into the world to be done. At least that's my impression!

So when future generations ask me where I was when history was made, this story is what I will answer, and I hope you all had equally memorable nights/afternoons/whatever time it was in Singapore (woot, Titus!). There are many sources of inspiration in my life; Obama is clearly one of them, but the same is true for each of you guys too! Thank you.

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