A handful of UCSB students joined the millions that flocked to Washington D.C. yesterday to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama while hundreds more gathered at the University Center to watch the historic event play out on the television.
Matt Weisner, a fourth-year UCSB political science major who was in the nation’s capitol for the festivities, said that days of travel, massive crowds and hours waiting in below-freezing temperatures were well worth the opportunity of seeing Obama sworn-in.
“It’s fucking freezing,” Weisner said in a phone interview outside the Capitol building shortly after the President’s inauguration. “We had to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch a bus at 5 a.m. After a half-hour bus ride, we walked for another half-hour to the mall in 20 to 25 degree weather. It was worth it, but it was cold as hell.”
Back in Santa Barbara, where attendees sported flip-flops and shorts, an enthusiastic crowd of over 250 people cheered, cried and celebrated together as they watched the inauguration from the Hub.
The event was also broadcast live in the UCen’s Corwin Pavilion, where an additional 300 people gathered. It was standing room only for anyone who entered after 9 a.m., the scheduled time for Obama’s inauguration speech.
“Even though we were just watching the broadcast,” Rasha Ali, a first-year global studies major, said, “I feel we got to be a part of something historical.”
Weisner, who had a spot on the Mall in D.C., said that the day’s highlights, beyond the new President’s swearing, were the performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Aretha Franklin. More than any concert, however, he said the greatest spectacle was the patriotism and enthusiasm exhibited by the millions who gathered on and around the mall to be part of the moment.
“The thing that people don’t realize is the strong camaraderie – the relationship between all the people here,” he said. “So many people have traveled all this way because they all care about it; that’s the patriotism that it takes to come all the way out here and stand in the cold. Everyone was really happy and nice, you don’t get that from a CNN shot panning across the sky.”
Local Congresswoman Lois Capps echoed a similar sense of awe after witnessing the crowds at the inaugural ceremony.
“The striking thing was how the hundreds of thousands of people wanted to come, some with tickets and some without,” she said in an interview with the Nexus before she set out for the Western States Inaugural Ball. “It meant a lot of waiting, a lot of crowds and people waited hours. And yet, I didn’t hear people complain – the spirit was so positive and hopeful. And so resolute.”
The Congresswoman, along with her daughter and son-in-law – the new deputy press secretary Bill Burton – was part of the official presidential entourage. Capps said that while watching President Obama from her seating section a short ways behind the first family, she was moved by both his presence and his message.
“Obama really, really called the country to action,” she said. “It was a really direct and realistic speech, really moving. I saw this man, alive and lean and young with his family, and I felt all the historical meaning of the event.”
Charlie Rich, a first-year political science major who watched the events from the comfort of the Hub, was also smitten by the new executive’s speech.
“Sometimes I get lost in his words,” Rich said. “The way he uses his voice is so powerful.”
Capps said she was especially impressed with a few select portions of the address.
“The things he laid down, how he told us how tough our fight is going to be, how our values are old and constant…It was very moving,” she recalled. “And when he addressed [other countries], and said, ‘We’ll extend a hand if you unclench your fist’ – that will stick with me forever. I was really impressed.”
Additionally, fourth-year art history major Nicole Petler said she respected Obama’s call to citizens to make a difference right away.
“I like that he said now is not a time for celebration, it’s a time for change,” Petler said “He urged us as citizens to participate in community service. It was interesting that he wasn’t quick to jump into a celebration. I was behind him on it – I encouraged people to participate as citizens and not take a back seat just because our economy is sliding.”
Chrissy Elles, president of the Campus Democrats and fourth-year environmental studies and political science major, said in spite of the jubilant mood, there is no quick fix to our nation’s troubles.
“Bush hurt young people’s morale and we felt like we couldn’t do anything,” Elles said “With Obama, we’re more energized to make a difference. Along with this great fanfare that surrounds Obama, people need to stay real – the issues at hand won’t be solved tomorrow. It will take patience and effort on our part. Like Obama says, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Obama doesn’t have a magic wand to solve all our problems.”