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Claudia Ricci Headshot

One Gigantic Shining Moment

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It was way before sunrise when celebrants began to converge on the Mall to form the human quilt. How many of us were there? Two million? Three? Looking out at the sea of people, it looked like a red throbbing blur. Later, I spoke to people who despite their best efforts, actually never made it to the Mall. Three women from Iowa who had toiled hard back at home to get tickets for a good standing room perch by the Capitol told me that they ended up waiting four hours in a tunnel to get to the mall.

Sadly, police closed the entrance before they -- and thousands like them -- were able to get in.

But even in that case, according to these Iowa women, there was, remarkably, no one pushing or angry or swearing, even after they were turned away. This was a day for gentle and upbeat celebration, despite the many challenges. Waiting in long, long lines, and in numbing cold, we joked and smiled and made endless chit chat. We fell into impromptu conversations with complete strangers as we walked miles, and waited hours, and watched the festivities with the press of bodies all around.

What we found was a huge spill over of emotion.

In the moments immediately after Obama was sworn in, I turned to an African American woman standing behind me and we just hugged, celebrating in that tight embrace the collapse of racial divide. We shared too what everyone out there was enjoying: a renewed sense of pride in being able to call ourselves Americans. A renewed hope that our new President can lead us through very scary and challenging times.

The spirit that took over Washington, D.C. this week will go down in history as one gigantic shining moment. A high point when we came together to celebrate our belief as Americans that anything is possible. That all dreams have their moment.

This inauguration is surely one great moment, and a wonderful launching pad for the Obama Presidency. Part street festival, part carnival, it exuded a spirit of love and cooperation, hope and possibility, that I have never associated with political events. Yes, it was a cold, cold, day, but the warmth of the people attending, and the inspiration of the leader being installed on the podium, fired us up. Gave us the heart and the heat and the hope that we indeed are witnessing a sea change in history.

No matter what disappointments lie ahead, and naturally there will be some, for now, we are glowing and so connected. We know what it means to act -- and to celebrate-- as a diverse American nation. We are convinced that we've chosen a man to lead us, to bring us together, a man who can inspire us to have the courage we need to face these very scary and difficult times.

Millions and millions of us were out there on the mall. We formed a crowd like none the nation has ever seen before. We were a long and throbbing sweep of human beings, standing in the bitter cold, pressing shoulder to shoulder all the way from the U.S. Capitol down past the Washington Monument and further, toward the Lincoln Memorial. We were a pumped up crowd that was at once elated and energized, screaming and cheering and waving Amerian flags, but at the same time, completely peaceful -- astonishingly, Washington police made not a single arrest all day long.

It was a good, good time, and no one who was there will ever forget it. I know I won't forget the joy I saw all around me. One image carved in my mind: a jubiliant young African American man stepped off a curb and started leading his own impromptu parade, calling all of us to chant with him at the top of his lungs: O-BAM-A, O-BAM-A.

The party ends, but maybe the chanting -- and the belief that we've found a leader-- can continue.