This post was written by Amy Hunt, 18, an author of RED the Book, a collection of personal essays written by 58 American teenage girls, recently released in paperback. She is a freshman at Juniata College.
I wish I could write here about my glorious inauguration experience, about the overwhelming emotion as I watched Barack Obama sworn in, about getting to witness his first speech as our 44th president, about the adrenaline that pulsed through the crowd of millions on the Mall.
Well, I can write about that last bit, the charge of the crowd, sure.
But not like that. No, I can talk about the energy as we pleaded with security to open the gate, to let us purple ticket-holders in. Not those silver tickets released to the general public, but the ones given out to staffers, DNC employees, union leaders -- "the people who had really worked for this," according to Katie Kellum, a friend of mine and a field organizer for the Obama campaign. She was kind enough to make me her plus-one, and on Monday night, drove from Lexington, Kentucky, to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, to pick me up from college before heading to D.C.
For Katie and me, this was our first election, our first chance to vote, and attending the inauguration was a way of celebrating the fact that the candidate we chose is now our president. And it ended in big purple heartbreak.
A friend in the blue section later told us he didn't make it in, either.
And to think: If I'm crying here -- me, the lucky plus-one of a friend who, for months, uprooted her life and devoted herself to Barack Obama -- then imagine Katie. "Really, the only thing we wanted was to see him sworn in," she told me.
Instead, we were just two of the thousands of people who missed exactly that. We held up our purple tickets to prove that we all deserved a place on the other side of the gates, and watched with envy as anyone who made it through ran in with joy. We heard rumors of security breaches; there was only one gate open, or no gates open, or nobody was being let through or some people were being let through but slowly.
What happened? Why were these people unable to be a part of the inauguration they worked so hard to make happen? Why were our pleas and tickets ignored? We can think of people to blame: security and law enforcement? The inauguration committee? Republicans? We don't know, and no one bothered to tell us. All we wanted was an explanation or an apology, but we received neither.
We're calling it our riot of '09, though it was probably more of a peaceful protest. First we stood unmoved for two hours, wondering if the gates had opened, a little starstruck as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson pushed past us. Eventually, we eased forward a few feet only to stop and wait again, little by little making it into the sunlight. "Open up the purple gate!" people demanded. Word started going around that the gates were closed, that none of us would be let in.
That's when the phone calls started: crying phone calls to friends or frantic phone calls to parents, asking them to put the receiver up to the television so we could try to hear the ceremony. And when the cannon fire marked the end of the inauguration and the beginning of this momentous administration, we jumped and shouted for joy--but a bittersweet, via cellphone-and-TV kind of joy. We's missed a moment that would never happen again.
To be clear, I think I can speak for that entire, freezing, disappointed crowd when I say that all of us are so happy to know that Barack Obama is our new president. Yes, we cheered when word reached us that Biden was sworn in, then again for Obama. When my friends and I watched parade footage while eating lunch in a shabby little restaurant--when we saw Michelle and Barack step out of the car and walk along the parade route waving and smiling--our hearts flipped.
But, at least for me, it took a while for it to sink that he really truly is our president. After all, we didn't get to hear the speech. We didn't get to see the swearing-in. And sometimes, this being one of those times, watching the clips on YouTube just doesn't do the trick. No, the only YouTube videos that seem fully real right now are those of the ticket-holders like Katie and me who didn't get in, who chanted and yelled and pleaded.
We're all for that reverend's benediction we heard about days later--yellow will be mellow, the red man can get ahead man, all that. But what in the world rhymes with purple? And, however charming, it's painful to hear about the day we're all supposed to be working toward when ours shut us out.