January 18, 2009

Locals at Inauguration: Can it match emotions of election night?

Given that nearly 3 million are expected in Washington D.C. to watch Tuesday’s inauguration, it would seem unimaginable that anything could top the emotion that will be felt from Capitol Hill all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.

But flash back for a minute to the SOS Club in Modesto on the first Tuesday night of November, where the 150 or so people weren’t so much celebrating Barack Obama’s election-night victory as much as they were that an African-American was running for president.

“Win or lose, we were already in celebration mode,” said Modesto’s Margie Lee. “When he won, the celebration was even more deeply felt. ... The historical significance of how far we’ve come from the day African-Americans weren’t able to vote in certain parts of the country to now, an African-American running for office.

“There were tears all over the room. ... We were channeling Jesse Jackson. There was just a look on people’s faces, especially the older ones who never thought they’d see something like this happen. Tears all over ... men, women ... It was a very powerful moment.”

Lee, who is involved with various community groups, including Soroptomists International, the NAACP, the United Way and the Women’s Auxilliary, is one of more than 30 residents from the Northern San Joaquin Valley who will be attending the inauguration.

She received her tickets through the office of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and fully expects another powerful moment Tuesday morning on The Mall.

“I remember being in high school when they had President Kennedy’s inauguration,” she said. “It was the first time I had really paid attention to it. It was amazing. I was a teen then and as I grew, I became less interested in politics. Then, as an adult, I became more interested again. This election rekindled the feeling when Kennedy was elected.”

Lee, who worked the phone backs for the Obama campaign, said she thought the president-elect was something special when watching his speech at the Democratic National Convention four years ago, thinking “What a wonderful young man.”

Today, Lee is looking forward to celebrating a historic moment, wherever her ticket puts her on Inauguration Day. She could be up close, between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, where Obama’s swearing in will take place. Or, she could be further out.

“We’re going on faith and just hoping we can see the whole thing,” she said. “We’ll play it by ear ... and go and be a part of history.”

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