lunchnancyKids concert

The Obama Inauguration - Terry and Carol's trip

Monday, January 19: Senate Breakfast, Pelosi Lunch, and Kids Concert - photos


Monday morning, another breakfast, but instead of the joyful spirit of the Gospel Breakfast, we experienced the stuffy feeling of the Senate. The event, sponsored by the Senatorial campaign finance committee was in the Willard, one of Washington’s fanciest hotels (my mother remembered it as the premier one when she grew up there, 80 years ago).  The room was full of important looking white men, many of them probably senators or the equivalent. The speeches were formulaic thank yous and acknowledgments.  Food was fine, but overall not an impressive event. It’s going to take a lot for Obama to change the culture of Washington. Seeing the contrast between this, and the style of his events, presence, family, and smile was sobering.


Lunch, on the other hand, sponsored by the corresponding House committee, was very different.  A ‘haimish’ event with good mood, good food, and good music (Sheryl Crow and Bon Jovi). Carol attributes the difference to the influence of Nancy Pelosi, whom she describes as “much more people savvy, charming, and engaging”. It was in the most amazingly impressive and ornate room we were in, the Mellon Auditorium. Speakers included fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who turns out to be the daughter of a holocaust survivor and a big supporter of the democratic party. Her first husband, Prince Egon had a previous wife who was heir to the Fiat fortune.


On one side of us at the table was an African-American who had trained with Carol at San Francisco General Hospital those many years ago, with his son, a lawyer in Indiana. They described the Obama rally at the state fair in Terre Haute, at which one voter after another got up saying “I’ve always been a Republican but I’m voting for Obama”. That was when they decided he really had a chance.  The son worked with the group of lawyers protecting the vote, and they are now staying organized to help Barack push his agenda forward. When we had run into him at a fundraising event during the campaign, he was coy about whether he was expecting a position in the administration. Today he described it as “waiting for the cute boy to call for the prom but I haven’t bought my dress yet.”  Being in the position we were in as donors did raise the questions of just what kind of access and position comes with money, and what should.  Of course Obama is miles beyond the Washington standards in being sensitive to this, but it is always there.

On the other side were two amazing women.  Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo is a gynecologist from Rwanda. She was one of the people saved in the Hotel Rwanda, as 16 of her 17 siblings were killed.  After the war she became part of Gacaca, a traditional tribunal for the genocide perpetrators, going village to village working with people accused for war crimes, and promoting economic projects. She was was working in her private clinic with more than 30 patients a day, when she became Secretary of State for Social Welfare from 2000 to 2003, then Senator 2003-2008, from where, in May 2008, she went to that Regional Parliament that is the East African Legislative Assembly. She has the kind of presence and bearing that can only come from deep experience and deep personal strength that comes from it.  A very impressive woman. She pointed out, by the way, as Speaker Pelosi spoke, that Rwanda has 60% women in their government, the highest in the world.

She had been brought to Washington the previous day by Paula Comstock, founder of an organization called One Tribe, which has provided aid to develop medical education and care in Eritrea and other African countries.  Paula is passionate about her work, operating as a small grassroots organization, and she has achieved amazing things.  She said “I am honored to be able to work in both Eritrea and Rwanda, and inspired by and learn much from the way both peoples respond to their challenges.”gs.  She wanted to give Odette the opportunity to make contact with people in the new administration, but didn’t have tickets to any of the events.  As part of our package, we had tickets to that night’s Bipartisan Gala Inaugural dinner with Colin Powell, who was one of the people she had previously contacted and wanted to meet with.   Although we would have enjoyed the food and the glitz (which we later heard were excellent), we knew that she could make much better use of the opportunity, so we gave them our tickets.

On amusing note was at the toast to Obama, at which we raised glasses, and I said “L’Chaim”  I got a L’chaim back and a smile from the person sitting behind me at the next table – Debby Wasserman Schultz, the very Jewish congresswoman from Florida – maybe I should have talked to her a little about Gaza!

Speaking of women, it was amusing to be outside afterwards and see Nancy Pelosi getting in her car to leave, amidst a crowd of cheering people, just like a rock star!

Kids concert

In the evening, since we had given away our dinner tickets, we just went to the Kids' Inaugural Concert at the giant hockey stadium (Verizon Center). On our way there, we encountered one of the very few people who weren’t Obama fans (and we talked to a lot). Our taxi driver, who sounded Russian, was listening to right wing talk radio, and was very pleased when they announced that the border guards got pardons. Overall it was amazing to be part of a giant population that all seemed to be on the same wavelength. More of that Woodstock feeling!

We weren’t sure what the concert was, and Carol expected the kind of concerts we took our own kids too back in the dim past – gentle whimsical music (remember Raffi, Charlotte Diamond and Tom Hunter?).  Well it turns out that’s not what kids concerts are any more, even for the 6-12 year old audience that were there.  The big draws were Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana) and the Jonas Brothers.  They seem to be somewhat milder versions of the same sexualized pop culture that brought us Britney Spears.   The innocence and simple fun of childhood is history, at least in mass culture. Carol wasn’t so keen on the music, nor was the elderly African-American woman next to us, who was apparently brought (and left) by her son, and said she expected it to be a better group of performers.  Wrong generation!

But Jill Biden and Michelle (with kids and grandkids) were there, and there was a range of videos, talks, etc. to get the kids to think of themselves as part of the nation and its politics. It was labeled “The Kids Inauguration” and Michelle pushed her agenda of national service, saying that even at a young age they could visit someone who was sick, provide food for the homeless, or write a letter to a service person overseas. The crowd, in fact was primarily from the military. Tickets weren’t sold but were given out free to military families.  Again part of the big theme that Obama appreciates the military people, as people, emphasizing their family connections. The guy behind us was from the National Guard, and had been in Iraq. Carol ended up helping him find where the low-carb food was available in the stadium.

When we got back to our hotel, we stopped at the little gourmet café next door and started up a conversation with a guy in a tux and a correspondingly-dressed woman.  They were staying in the same hotel and we asked if they had been to a bipartisan gala dinner – and it was the same one we were supposed to go to.   Starting the usual “Where are you from” smalltalk, it turned out that she is a professor of French and comp lit at Stanford who lives a couple of blocks from us, and her husband worked at Xerox PARC when I was there in early 70s.  And they were staying in same hotel.  The old “small world” line was proved over and over.

Tuesday - The Main Event