A hush descends on the crowd gathered at the Washington Monument as trumpets ceremoniously roar on the sound system and the announcer declares, “Ladies and gentlemen, the vice president-elect of the United States.”
Minutes earlier, the ground around the Washington Monument was a gigantic picnic site, where thousands of people who could not make it to the Lincoln Memorial - where the ceremonies were being held - had gamely parked.
But as the sound system crackles, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president-elect of the United States,” and Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, appear on the gigantic screen, a sudden sense of urgency grips the crowd.
Mesmerised, they surge toward the screen. “I think he just waved at me,” says a teenager as the screen displays a grinning, waving Obama. “Oh, there’s little Sasha,” squeals an elderly woman like a proud grandmother displaying family photographs.
By the time the national anthem is sung, the mood turns electric. Grown men clasp their chests, tears trickle down some cheeks, and standing tall before the Washington Monument, Jeff - a 44-year-old former US Navy serviceman who declined to provide his family name - smartly salutes the proceedings.
“I still feel as patriotic as I felt on the day I took my oath in the services,” says Jeff. A registered Republican, Jeff declines to say who he voted for in the presidential election. But, he maintains, he is “a fan of the democratic process, I have faith in it.”
Sitting on a low wall ringing the Washington Monument, 75-year-old Matt Jacobson says his faith in his country has been renewed. “I’m very proud of Americans,” he says. “Years ago, I never would have thought this possible.”
Born in North Carolina before moving up to DC, Jacobson recalls his childhood in the segregated South. “I can remember when we had separate bathrooms for colored people, separate water-fountains, we even had separate entrances in cinema halls,” he said. “This is change. Change has come to America.”
Almost on cue, Jon Bon Jovi and Bettye LaVette croon, “It’s been a llllllong, long time coming,” in a soulful rendition of the Sam Cooke single, “A Change is Going To Come”.
But right by the Monument, on Constitution Avenue, Peter Keseljevic is not happy with the change that has come. Holding a sign that reads, “You want change not with Obama but with Jesus,” Keseljevic is protesting with a motley crew of hardcore Jesus fans, warning that Obama “promotes the sin of homosexuality”.
And what’s sinful for America, says Norwegian-born Keseljevic, is sinful for the rest of the world. “America is the leader of the world. What takes place in America goes around the world,” he says. “And America needs to take note of the Bible and stop chasing this sin of greed.”
The prospect so upset the Oslo-based electrician, that he hooked up with a group of street-preachers on the Internet and bought himself a ticket to DC.
In the freezing cold, Keseljevic argues with a spirited bunch of black students, one of whom screeches, “My father is a preacher and he says you may hate the sin, but you must love the sinner.”
But most of the folks here are just gathered to have a good time and to witness a slice of history-in-the-making.
Bryant Farland, a 38-year-old attorney, is here with his wife, mother-in-law and three little kids all gaily waving Obama flags.
“I want my kids to experience this,” says Farland. “This is historic.”
Farland says his 7-year-old daughter Gillian-An is particularly excited because Obama will be sworn in a day after the Martin Luther King Holiday. “Two of my kids are adopted, they were born in Cambodia,” he explains. “The fact that Obama’s inauguration falls a day after Martin Luther King Day points to an extension of what Dr. King worked for, so that our children will be accepted and allowed to excel in this world.”