"What Was Yours Is Everyone's From Now On": Among the Americans (and Others) at the Lincoln Memorial:
The Rude Pundit's favorite moment yesterday at the We Are One concert for Barack Obama happened before anyone started up on the stage at Lincoln's feet. The Rude Pundit was at the south side of the reflecting pool, about halfway down, near one of the Jumbotrons playing what we could not see, and, having an hour to go, he told the people he was with that he wanted to see what it was like closer down. So he walked down the path, near the blue port-a-potties, to almost the limit of where those who didn't have tickets could go. He saw that it would have been one of those frustrating places to stand, being near enough to see tiny people on stage and far away from the screens. So he turned to walk, against the flow of people, back to where he had been.
At that moment, Wilco's song "What Light" started playing over the speakers, a generously hopeful shuffle of a tune, lyrics tinged with realism about ultimately giving oneself over to what's good inside. With his back to the stage, facing the people, the Rude Pundit noticed that everyone passing by was, truly, blissful. Blissful in that silent, almost beatific way that one only sees in babies who have just nursed or grown-ups who have just had an orgasm. As if trying to accept that this was all really happening. Sure, of course, we each read a situation in the ways that grow from our own frames of reference. The Rude Pundit had expected happiness and celebration. But this was way, way different from the raucous party he had thought might happen.
And he just smiled, in the gray, cold but not too cold day, dirt and dust covering his shoes, Lincoln Memorial behind him, Washington Monument in front, Wilco echoing throughout the Mall. A small smile of recognition, a feeling that at this moment, even just for now, things were different. Nothing definable, just, you know, "things." Then he fairly sauntered, hands in his coat pockets, through the people passing him by, and every face he met just smiled and nodded back. Like we knew. Just knew.
You can read about the concert itself elsewhere. There was good and bad and ugly in the performances and readings. But the Rude Pundit's never been in a crowd as attentive and respectful as this one, as quiet when it needed to be - really, there were times no one around him was doing anything but watching and listening. And if you're in as racially and geographically diverse as a huge group can be and everyone is singing with Mary J. Blige and John Mellencamp, and dancing when Garth Brooks did "Shout," waving their hands in the air like it was the best wedding they've ever been to, why critique it? Besides, when Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen are leading everyone in a big, sloppy singalong of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and the Lebanese immigrant standing behind the Rude Pundit is singing, in a deep voice, "America the Beautiful" with Beyonce' on stage, then we're kind of beyond criticism.
When Obama spoke, he didn't tell us to blindly celebrate. He didn't simply thank us for being there. No, he reminded us that we were there to work. That we were on the Mall to start a seriously difficult time. That we were in this together. That we had to rebuild and renew this America. And, just for that few hours, at least, if not beyond, we believed we could do it.