Like most people, I will not be attending any inaugural events this year because of the pandemic restrictions and threats of civil disturbances. The event today does bring back wonderful memories of the first and only inauguration I ever attended. It was on January 20, 1961. In 1960 I had graduated from high school and had not gone to college because of doubts as to whether I could be successful. Instead, I was attending a short-term vocational program in Washington, DC and living in a single room in a boarding house just a half dozen blocks from the White House. Even then I had an intense interest in politics and followed the Kennedy-Nixon campaigns and debates intensely. I loved candidate and then President-elect John F. Kennedy as did millions of others. I was not about to miss the opportunity to go to his inauguration when I was living so close by.
On the day before the inauguration, temperatures dropped to 20 degrees and eight inches of snow fell. I got up early Inauguration Day and literally put on all the clothing I owned and started a trek to the US Capitol on foot. Workers directed by the Army Corp of Engineers had been working throughout the night to haul away as much of the snow as possible from Capitol grounds and Pennsylvania Avenue. The military had brought in flame throwers to melt some of the snow and ice. More than a thousand cars that had been stranded in the area had to be removed
At the Capitol I was able to position myself on the edge of a wall that allowed me to see the inauguration over those who had tickets and were seated at the Capitol. My plan to film the event with my brother’s 8 mm camera did not happen because the cold kept the camera from running a few minutes after I brought it out from under my coat. Certainly there was security, but nothing like we are seeing leading up to this inauguration. I felt free to move about except for the area that had been blocked off for special invited guests.
The speech given by our new president still brings tears to my eyes. His words, “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country,” inspired me to public service.
We have been through four years that have been tragic for our democracy. I believe we are all better informed about threats to our system of government. The Biden-Harris team is well suited to restore hope and confidence in our government. Honesty and decency will become a new norm for the executive branch. Attention to the COVID-19 crisis will be focused, coordinated and intense. Respect for others will dominate our society except for a small minority that will slink away into the background. Equity will be the new standard by which we measure our economy. All this can happen if we truly believe it and dedicate ourselves to making it happen. We can have another inauguration to remember!
Photo via Ken Plum