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Parties And Questions
Thirty degrees is what the temperature gauge read. Plummeting from a high in the 50s just two weeks earlier, a cold chill ran throughout the streets of the nation's capitol.
Yet despite the frigid temps, Washington, D.C. was electric during the inauguration of Barack Obama. Claudia Ahwireng, an African American first year law student at Duke spent five hours driving up from North Carolina just to attend the event. Describing the ceremony, Ahwireng said, "It was cold, but the excitement just washed it all away."
Long lines, national guard in full fatigues on street patrols, and the constant whir of helicopters overhead couldn't contain the mix of exhilaration and anticipation that showed itself everywhere. For a few days, it seemed, the troubles of the nation took a small reprieve to celebrate.
From public performances including Beyonce and Bruce Springstein on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to over 80 celebratory balls and parties across the city, the excitement in the air was almost visual. Among the estimated two million who crowded the National Mall for inauguration were thousands of newly inspired young voters. Like the rest of the city, these young voters were at fever pitch for the swearing in of the 44th President.
For Ahwireng though, the trip was personal as well as festive. Having grown up in the D.C. area, Ahwireng described the experience as joyful as well as reflective. "A lot of students were very excited at school, but I chose to drive up on my own."
The drive, as well as the days preceding the inauguration ceremony, was spent in introspection and celebration with family. Ahwireng noted that in terms of race, "black Americans haven't traditionally had access to this level of power...I want to create a career as a black professional and Obama raise aspirations I have for myself".
Describing Obama's appeal as a mix of collaborator and visionary, she noted that one of his strongest points of success is that "his campaign realized the potential of young people". The campaign's use of technology, his personal background, and his professional life have all connected him with young voters in a way that few candidates have. This accessibility transferred into an unprecedented number of volunteer hours, turnout, and enthusiasm from younger voters.
The festivities reflected this ballooning of political newcomers as well. The District was flush with a host of events geared towards younger voters. From environmental and youth focused balls to events by the Hip-Hop Caucus with a performance by Harry Hotter and hosted by Big Tigger. Besides these events numerous conferences, lectures, and events were focused on the next generation of young leaders.
The shear variety of inaugural events and numbers showed how the past two years of organizing to put a more progressive government in place has ballooned the next generation of the progressive political movement.
However big questions remain.
Ahwireng thinks that this new wave of leadership ushered in by a visionary leader with lofty end goals is what's most appealing to young voters. However, it remains to be seen how this new generation of young, politically motivated individuals will adapt now that a new more active and presumably progressive government has come to power. Most notably, will young people stay involved and continue to work for the changes they think are needed, or will they become disheartened by the slow pace of progress? Ahwireng thinks that it's important for Obama to work to fulfill the promises he's made.
"People fell in love because they believe he can deliver results." To fall back on those promises may create another generation of frustrated and apathetic voters.
For now though, as Washington D.C. gets back to normal under a new President, Ahwireng and others feel inspired and ready to get to work.
KJ Meyer lives in Denver, Co., where he occasionally takes time off from paying his law school loans to play with his dog in the mountains.
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