Molokai at the Inauguration
The Friendly Isle represents in D.C.
By Todd Yamashita
We awake the morning of Obama’s inauguration a little before 4:30am. Though bleary-eyed and exhausted, Noe and I are eager to begin the journey from her parents’ house in northern Virginia, to the capital in Washington D.C.
Today, D.C. is at the center of the world. All eyes are on the nation’s capital to witness perhaps the biggest change in American politics since the induction of the nation’s first president. It is estimated that over 100 million television and internet viewers tuned in to the event.
More important to Noe and I, there are over 2 million who are physically making their way to the same place at the same time. To make matters a bit more interesting, the temperature is in the teens and possibly even colder with wind-chill.
By 6 a.m., we are on the train. The trip into town is only 16 miles as the crow flies and normally takes 20 minutes. But today there are so many people packing in that the train’s doors won’t close and we are stalled on the tracks a number of times. After an hour and a half in transit we become aware that our journey to witness the inauguration is a race against time.
After emerging from the subway we meet up with a friend and begin navigating the city streets. It’s an amazing sight – all the roads and highways are closed to traffic but instead are crowded with hundreds of thousands of people. At one point we enter a mile-long highway tunnel packed with more people than live on the entire island of Molokai.
At 8:45 a.m. we finally locate the Blue Gate which is the security entrance onto the National Mall. Our tickets place us in a good spot – less than a quarter mile from the capital. But unfortunately, there are over 240,000 thousand people holding the same ticket, many of whom are in our line, which is as wide as it is long.
It’s now 9:45 a.m. and in the past 45 minutes we’ve moved just five feet closer to the front of the line which is still so far ahead we can’t even see it. Finally we’re in! It’s 11 a.m., and with thirty minutes to spare, we find a relatively uncrowded spot on the lawn.
The capital is huge – it’s so much larger than it appears in photos. Although we are not positioned to see the actual ceremony, we are very close to the jumbotrons, allowing us to see and hear everything in detail.
The crowd cheers as various politicians grace the screen — Ted Kennedy, Colin Powell, the Clintons. But not everyone is as popular – Lieberman, Cheney, and Bush receive jeers. As Sasha and Malia make their way out the crowd erupts again in celebration.
Anticipation is high. There is electricity in the air. Finally Obama appears and the crowd erupts into a raucous cheer. Noe and I can’t believe we’re here.
Canons thunder around the city. Obama is sworn in and is now officially the 44th president of the United States. “My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us…”
It’s amazing. A crowd of nearly 2 million falls completely silent as the president speaks. We have all come such a long way and have waited patiently for this experience. Eight years of an unpopular president, two wars, a troubled economy. During this time of challenge and doubt, here stands an unlikely leader exuding hope and the promise of new beginnings. The crowd is spellbound.
It’s now 1:30 P.M. and the crowds are dispersing. The bone-chilling cold is relentless and all we can think about is finding warmth and food. We watch the rest of the inauguration from a nearby pub. CNN shows Bush Jr.’s 747 leaving for Texas and the entire restaurant celebrates – the city now belongs to the Democrats. A resident describes it as a weight that’s been lifted and the mood is all-around jubilation.
Welcome to the Ball
A quick power-nap and shower at a friend’s house and we’re ready for more. We set off on an “Amazing Race”-like jaunt across the city to the Washington Convention Center where thousands of celebrities, politicians and Obama supporters are congregating for several celebrations. Noe and I were lucky to score tickets to the Obama Home States Ball which combines Illinois and Hawaii revelers.
In D.C., movie stars take a backseat to the popular politicians. We’re lucky – the last major event of our whirlwind journey is headlined by none other than President Obama himself! In person, Obama is twice as engaging and charismatic as he is on TV. After greeting the crowd with an aloha, he gives a quick speech thanking supporters and proceeds to dance with his wife.
Obama and Michelle have amazing chemistry and without a doubt are still very much in love. How cool is it to have a young Hawaii-raised president who happens to be a happy and positive person?
As quick as he had popped on stage, Obama is gone. Noe and I, along with everyone else, are in awe to have shared the same space with this amazing man.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, have stopped by for a quick appearance. Biden seems to be as laid back and jovial as Obama. After joking with the crowd and dancing with his wife, he, too, is off.
Soon North Shore musician Jack Johnson takes the stage. The eco-conscious artist who normally performs in T-shirt and slippers admits it’s his first time performing in a suit. Accompanied by John Cruz, the duo is putting on a show that’s all about good times and aloha. We are happy to get a photo with Jack after the show then call it a night.
After sleeping in a bit we return to D.C. the following morning to meet with Hawaii’s politicians and offer ho`okupu (gifts) from Molokai. Representing the island’s businesses — Molokai Visitors Association, Molokai Mele, Gourmet Salts by Nancy Gove, Dan Bennett Pottery, Purdy’s Mac Nuts, Decoite’s L&R Farms, and the Molokai Dispatch each donated items – mahalo!
First on our list is Sen. Akaka, who graciously accepts us into his office. From there we shake hands with Sen. Inouye in the hall, then make our way to House of Representatives office building. We meet with Rep. Abercrombie who is delighted with the gifts and we’re quickly off to Rep. Hirono’s place. She isn’t around but her attentive staff makes us feel quite welcome.
Back at Sen. Akaka’s, we take a break and talk story with him about Hawaii and politics. Moments earlier, he had met with constituents and confirmed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But he was most excited about recently swearing in Gen. Shinseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs, who he had worked hard to facilitate to the new post. We also talk about his support for the Kalaupapa Memorial Act, but most of all, Akaka enjoys talking about his love of the islands and its people.
Sharing with Sen. Akaka our excitement for Obama is a highlight of the trip. Akaka, with over thirty years of service in D.C., helps us to put it all in perspective. The sacrifices are great, but you can hear it in his voice that working to better the lives of our greater `ohana is truly what it means to be a great politician.
Mahalo again to our own `ohana who have made great sacrifices for us to travel to the inauguration. Mahalo also to our Molokai supporters and our Hawaii constituents who helped to open doors for us along the way. The excitement and hope we have for our nation, state, and island are our own personal ho`okupu to our new president. May all of our collective optimism pave the way for a better world!
Much Aloha, Todd and Noe Yamashita
For photos of the trip, please visit Noelani Yamashita's Facebook page.