January 23, 2009
By Anthony D. Advincula
New America Media
Editor’s Note: More than a million people gathered in the nation’s capital to witness the historic swearing in of the 44th President of the United States. New York-based NAM editor Anthony Advincula spoke with people in the crowd, including several day laborers who took the day off to hear the speech.
WASHINGTON More than a million people gathered in frigid weather to witness the historic swearing in of Barack Obama, who at noon became the 44th President of the United States. The inauguration of the first African-American president drew a sea of people that stretched from the inaugural platform to Lincoln Memorial. The crowd was silent, then roared in unison, waving American flags, as security helicopters hovered in the sky.
“This is a stunning event. It’s unbelievable. I have not seen something like this before,” said Susan Gray-stone, a long-time Washington, D.C., resident who witnessed inaugurations of past U.S. presidents. “The American people are obviously ready for change.”
“Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions that time has surely passed,” Obama said during his inaugural address. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.”
President Obama directly addressed the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and their homes to foreclosures, saying the “challenges we face are real,” and preparing them for the long road to recovery ahead.
But, the President’s sober message could not dampen the jubilation many in the crowd felt.
“Dreams could really happen. Now we don’t have to doubt it anymore. If we believe and have hopes in our hearts, nothing is impossible,” Nekeisha Hamilton, of Montgomery, Alabama, said in the middle of the crowd. “Obama is my true hero.”
Several day laborers, who usually gather at a nearby Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue, took a day off from work to hear any mention of immigration or labor issues in Obama’s inaugural speech.
Although President Obama did not directly mention his plans on immigration in his inaugural message, he acknowledged the hardworking people in the country.
“Our journey has never been one of short cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom,” Obama said.
“I know that the economy is bad, and that is Obama’s priority,” said laborer Alejandro de Ramos, based in Virginia, a few miles from Dulles International Airport. “But I pray every day that he will also do something about immigration to legalize the status of millions of workers without proper documents.”
Jose Mario, who had been up before dawn today, expressed his optimism. “I hope that Obama’s promises will come true,” he said. “I’m glad to be part of this history.”
Mario added that the election of Obama is a ray of hope for immigrant workers, as construction and retail sectors have been hit the hardest by the current economic recession. “This is for real,” he said. “Change is happening.”