Today, my friends and I braved 30 degree weather and a crowd of hundreds of thousands to see some notable entertainers sing, dance, and speak. A few people had heard that there were around 1 million people packed into the western side of the Washington Mall, but it is hard to tell for sure. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of people, and when I retell the story in coming years, there will have been over a million. Here's the NYT overview of the event.
The process of getting into the Mall (lines, security, etc.) was really not all that bad. There were many entry points and things moved quickly. We began on the south side but quickly discovered that the view was better from the north. Once on the north side, my friend, Julia, and I tried to scout up ahead to determine how close our group could get to the stage. It was a bad idea. By the time we reached the front third of the Reflection Pool, it became so crowded that Julia and I were being pushed along in an unchosen direction by the crowd. So we turned and made our way back to the group.
Eventually, the whole clan settled on a spot about halfway down the Pool. The stage was pretty miniscule, but there were large screens and speakers everywhere. Essentially, we went for the experience of being with a large group of people united around a common cause. (Or at least, this is what one tells oneself during the third, frosty hour of standing in one spot with numb feet.)
My dad had mentioned -- wisely -- that it would probably be a hassle to go to the bathroom in such a crowd, yet porta-potties were also in broad attendance -- hundreds of them lined the outer rim of the Mall.
The entertainment was satisfying. I especially liked Mary J. Blige's rendition of "Lean on Me" and Garth Brooks audience revving version of "Shout". Perhaps I liked these the most because these songs increased the already high level of unity among the people in attendance. Jamie Foxx also did a superb impression of Obama; Saturday Night Live should offer him a contract for the next four years (with the opportunity for renewal after the first four).
But do not be fooled, whether or not Bono was performing at this concert, the people were here for a primary reason -- because so was Barack Obama. The crowd cheered loudly for Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground", but whenever the camera quickly panned to Obama -- usually smiling, clapping, or dancing in his seat -- the crowd noise would increase noticeably. And when Obama approached the podium to make a short speech at the end, you could have heard the ice crack on the frozen Reflection Pool. Enamoring still dominates when Obama talks.
So what was my final impression of this massive get-together? Good music, fun atmosphere. The speeches and music were centered around a common purpose -- the individual and collective ability to positively change the nation. Almost every speech -- from Denzel Washington, Jack Black, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others -- was focused on lessons drawn from other difficult moments in America's history and the constructive way in which Americans reacted.
It was an event of epic proportions. Yet oddly (or scarily) enough, this was a warm-up. The inauguration (to which I am fortunate enough to have a ticket in the front section) will dwarf this.
Let's hope that the coals of the social movement being stoked in the Washington Mall this week reach far and deeply beyond the borders of the capital.