Here is a guest post from David Swanson, Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church in Chicago, IL.
Sometime this fall my wife and I were asked by some close friends whether we’d join them for the upcoming presidential inauguration in Washington DC. The invitation was contingent on one thing: Barak Obama’s election. These friends had been involved with the Obama campaign since the beginning, lending their support to the man who lives just a few blocks away in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. It was an easy invitation to accept.
We woke up very early on the Sunday before the inauguration, loaded up our rental car, and drove from our apartment on Chicago’s north side to pick up our friends. From there it was a twelve-hour drive through the snow to our nation’s capitol. Along the way we talked, napped and listened to a few of Dr Martin Luther King’s early speeches. The anticipation built as we reached our hotel in Baltimore, but it wasn’t until we sat down for an upscale soul food dinner at Georgia Brown’s, just blocks from the National Mall, that the celebratory mood really kicked in. The restaurant was packed with glad people who had traveled from around the country to be in Washington for this event.
After a good night’s sleep we drove to Howard University to explore one of the premier Historically Black Colleges, known to many as “the Black Harvard.” Once again we encountered a thrilled atmosphere. Despite the chilly temperatures the campus was filled with alumni and prospective students. While warming up in a nearby Starbucks our friends bumped into a friend from Chicago who had also made the trek for the inauguration. The weekend was beginning to feel like a family reunion.
This sense of camaraderie and joyful expectation was only amplified on Inauguration Day. We were regularly asked where we had come from and people were happy to share their own stories that had brought them to the capitol. The ethnic diversity of the day was something to behold. While each of us had our distinct reasons for making this trip, there was a genuine sense of goodwill that I have rarely experienced.
“Hopefully nonpartisan” is the best way I can describe the demeanor of those in the massive crowds. While this was certainly a political event, and while the new president now steps into a very political role, there was very little political language that we encountered. The hope expressed by so many simply by their presence on that cold Tuesday was beyond political. While the speculation by some that Dr King’s dream has been fulfilled in President Obama is clearly preposterous, the significance of this election cannot be underestimated. Surely there is still a long way to go; there is much about Dr King’s dream that needs to be articulated in our day. But for one long, cold weekend many of us caught a glimpse of the road ahead and found plenty of reasons to be hopeful.