By TAYLOR PARKER
Sam Houston State University
When President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term, I had the privilege of being there. While most Americans in colder areas were warmly ensconced in their homes, I stood on the National Mall for about seven hours in near-freezing temperatures to watch a politician speak. Yes, I am crazy for doing so, but I am equally crazy about politics. It was an extraordinary experience.
The five-hour wait offered us the opportunity to get to know those around us. At first, we experienced the awkwardness of being physically close to strangers, but we soon developed a friendship of sorts with them.
I enjoyed discussing politics with an older couple from Minnesota, a group from Tennessee and a middle-age woman who drove from New York. We didn’t mind being thrust into each other’s personal space by then, and our individual experiences grew into a collective experience.
Things livened up when a man began climbing a nearby tree. People praised him for his industrious spirit and desire for a good view, but that soon changed when he pulled out a sign reading, “Pray to End Abortion.”
Attempting more to gain a platform than change minds, the man’s shouting and ranting angered the bystanders, who were more interested in hearing the president than a stranger’s views on abortion. Eventually, police surrounded the tree, the novelty wore off, and our attention shifted back to the Capitol.
To warm up the crowd, figuratively if not physically, the PS22 Chorus and the Lee University Choir did an astonishing job of performing various musical pieces. The Marine Band geared up, welcoming legislators, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Supreme Court justices and other public servants.
I was somewhat dismayed to hear the crowd boo former vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan who did extend a gracious hand, congratulating “President Obama on his inauguration” and expressing his desire to “join the country in celebrating this American tradition.”
On the flip side, however, the Clintons received perhaps the warmest reception of all the dignitaries present with the exception, of course, of the first family.
Even with performances throughout the ceremony from Kelly Clarkson, James Taylor and Beyoncé, the president was the star of the show. When the swearing-in process began, all but the protester in the tree silenced, only to erupt again as the oath was complete. Cheers of “Obama, Obama,” and “Four More Years!” rattled down the National Mall.
There was a real energy in the crowd, and I am not sure it translated to television. Aside from the partisan support and cheers, there was a sense of American pride, patriotism, and respect from the crowd. It was gratifying to see and to be a part of.
As a political science student, I was especially elated to witness this majestic political process. But I felt this role as an American more than as a student, political science or otherwise.
I am a firm believer that, regardless of political affiliation, one can and should enjoy viewing our democracy in action, and I say that as part of a group of political science students who were split in their party support and who still showed respect for the president and Ryan.
This open-mindedness and openness to others is key to our political and social relations, and should be practiced by our legislators and other elected officials far more often.
We are, in fact, one nation, and as citizens of this nation we have the right to participate in processes unknown in other parts of the globe.
It is an extraordinary political system we have, and I am grateful to have shared in its unfolding this year, and I hope to participate again in 2017, regardless of the outcome of the next election.