Engaged: Obama and D.C. Residents

Washingtonians Feel Connected to Obama and Hope He Will Connect With Them as Well

Withstanding 3 and 4 o’clock wake-up calls and braving the 25-degree temperature, giddy District residents filed into the John A. Wilson Building with special invitations in hand for a watch party. City council members invited residents of each ward to participate in the “Obama Experience.” Guests were able to watch the inauguration ceremony on television in the halls of the Wilson building and within various offices. Eyes were locked on flat television screens as tears streamed down mocha, caramel and vanilla faces. Generations of people were spread throughout the building, all eager to take part in the historic day. Though dressed warm in a casual winter brown suit with a brown hat trimmed in fur, Sharon Borton’s rosy checks are a giveaway to her 3 a.m. venture into the cold to get to the Wilson Building. Speechless, the Ward 4 resident looked toward the screen. In a pause, she reflected on the moment. “I have maxed out on my emotions,” Borton said. “This is such a powerful time. I’m just feeling emotional, especially after hearing his speech and how it reinforces the values he stands for. I love how he has embraced the District, and we have absolutely embraced him.” Standing tall and coolly in a corner, Richard Smith of Ward 7 watched the flat screen as President Obama went along with the usual pomp and circumstance for his inaugural luncheon. Smith quickly glanced at his niece and reflected on the hope that President Obama will become involved in the reformation of the District’s school system. “I worry about my niece’s education, but I do see some change in the system,” he said. “I just want things to be better for her.” Later, guests viewed the parade from different vantage points of the Wilson building. Ward 7 residents had a panoramic view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the office of their councilwoman, Yvette Alexander. Residents huddled near the window or made their way to the viewing stand in front of the Wilson Building to catch a close-up glimpse of the First Family. They watched in great awe as a decorated motorcade escorted the Obamas along Pennsylvania Avenue. “I can’t stop crying.” “Marvelous!” “This is too awesome.” One of Alexander’s constituents asked when President Obama would make a trip East of the Anacostia River to visit with residents of Ward 7. “Hopefully soon,” Alexander responded. The conversation turned into a minor debate on who was the last president to venture into Ward 7. Ironically it was as recent as May 2005, when former President George W. Bush visited a Shell hydrogen gas station along Benning Road Northeast. Bush was there to observe and promote energy conservation methods. Residents “East of the River” know the irritation and pain of often being left out of the loop of citywide affairs, but nothing comes across as disrespectful as a president who doesn’t connect with the residents of the city in which he temporarily resides. Alexander hopes that Obama can make a connection, especially with the constituents of her ward. Like the Energizer bunny, Alexander is among her guests with a flushed face and winter white suit. After arriving to the Wilson building by dawn and attending the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol grounds, she takes a seat in a corner to reflect on her expectations of an Obama Administration. “One of the main things I hope for the entire District under an Obama Administration is the Voting Rights Act,” Alexander said. “We need our voice[s] to be heard in Congress. “One of the things that Obama has said is that D.C. is like a tale of two cities with the socio-economic division; the haves versus have-nots. Ward 7 is one of the most socio-economically diverse wards in the city. I would like to see President Obama continue to engage the city and use Ward 7 as a model to help set the standards of equality throughout the District.” By the parade’s end, District residents have begun to file out of the Wilson Building in an exhausted state. Indeed the day’s journey had been long, but as guests wait in the security line to exit much is shared. The consensus has been that the journey didn’t start today. It started long ago, perhaps with the birth of President Obama, and certainly this isn’t the end. All in all, some residents don’t expect overnight changes. All they want is to no longer be ignored. They want to be connected to, engaged to and embraced by the Obama Administration and the rest of government