By Rajul Awasthi
I attended the Inauguration Concert at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. To be honest, I went to see, for free, the great names of music that I so love and admire – live! There were Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, U2, Shakira, Usher, Beyonce (who I didn’t actually see), and many others, as also actors like Samuel Jackson and Queen Latifah. It was a great opportunity. And it was truly wonderful to hear them sing and perform.
But I have come away with an experience very unlike – and much more profound – than witnessing a rock band perform. This was truly the spirit of America that I got to feel and see. There was such a mass of people, at least a couple of hundred thousand, people who had traveled many miles to be there, to celebrate and participate in a celebration that was theirs. Each one there, I could see, owned the moment. This was their country, their celebration, their victory, and Barack Obama, their leader, their hero. It was amazing to see, whenever the Jumbotron showed a close up of Obama – singing with the music or just nodding his head to the beat – the crowd cheered lustily. And the cheers were much louder than those even for their greatly loved and admired stars that performed on the stage.
Democracy is alive and well in America. There were whites and blacks and Latinos and Asians, and all united in their ownership of the great moment. Truly, they feel the ownership because they have helped create it – they have voted. And they know each vote counted, and they know that that was their vote that got Obama to the White House.
There was much talk of history during the concert – the music was interspersed with short speeches from celebrities (Tiger Woods was one such speaker). There were the usual references to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy and Roosevelt and, of course, George Washington. But, today when I heard the speakers quote Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King I felt a jab in my heart, I felt a swelling in my throat, I felt a shiver down my spine. The words acquired a meaning for me today. These men were great, their ideas were great, and this country and its people that recognized their greatness and gave them such a hallowed place in its history are, therefore, great.
Sure, the world is going through real tough times: there are conflicts in every hotspot from the Middle East to India-Pakistan, the world economy is going through the worst downturn in decades, terrorism is rampant, religion is being abused; as Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar – “Oh judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason”. Yet, seeing the spirit of freedom and celebration and democracy and victory that I got to see today, I have hope. The world shall yet be a better place. America has shown how and where it can begin.
Rajul Awasthi is an IAS officer who is in the US on a one year deputation with the World Bank.
Pic courtesy the Presidential Inauguration Committee under Creative Commons License.