Lest we forget
The inauguration of now President Barack Obama was just 7 days ago, yet already it feels far away. It’s disappeared from our own front page on FIT, as it has from blogs and newspapers all around the country And after the rush of first-week policymaking, the first week of classes here at Cal, and business as usual (if there is such a thing) on Sproul Plaza at lunchtime, the thousands upon thousands of enraptured supporters who stood standing here one week ago seem like a distant memory.
Seeing as how Youki and I were at the event to ‘cover’ it for FIT from a ‘languages at Cal’ perspective, I was going to write “thousands of enraptured students” instead of “thousands of enraptured supporters”, and reflect on how students articulated their experience of being there…what words came to mind when you were watching Obama take his presidential oath on the big screen? What does “change” mean to you? And so on and so forth.
But what motivated me to write this post were the face-to-face conversations that we had with people out on Sproul who weren’t students, but who were there just the same. It was a public event. And yes, we were ostensibly all there for the purpose of watching TV, to hear the broadcast inaugural words spoken by this most extraordinary 44th President of the United States, along with hundreds of millions of people across the country and across the world. But just as much part of this media event was the encounter with those who had gathered—the friends of students, the mothers and daughters, the neighbors, the people of all generations and walks of life who call Berkeley home. It was a poignant reminder that, despite how separate our university-world feels sometimes, Cal is in Berkeley, and Berkeley is in California. We’re part of something bigger, and we should embrace that.
More than anyone else, I have Susan Louie and her welcoming group of friends to thank for these thoughts. If you read the UC Berkeley News article about last Tuesday’s TV event, you’ll learn that Susan, a Cal grad from the 90s, had brought a 15-foot banner that read “YOU ROCK BARACK” on it, and that these hand-painted words seemed to capture the sentiment of many. What you won’t read there is that it was actually Susan’s niece who had come up with the slogan in an act of late-night creative brainstorming, and that they had colored in the banner with a bunch of felt-tip pens, changing colors when they ran out of ink. And even more hidden from the local news coverage was the fact that Susan was offering up her delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies on Sproul Plaza, right out of the ziploc bag, even to strangers like Youki and me. We didn’t get an Obama poster, but it didn’t matter. When’s the last time someone you didn’t know offered you a chocolate chip cookie?
(that’s Susan there on the right; thanks to Youki for the pics)
Now, a week later, as we’re settled back into business as usual, I’m glad to see the Daily Cal shine a light on people like Berkeley resident Bill Fleig, who made a website for Obama campaign volunteers to share how the campaign experience has changed their lives. And I’m glad to be a student at Cal and have the chance to talk to people like Susan, right here on our campus, reminding us that we are indeed, and should remain, a public institution.