Margaret Busby - in Washington, America
Well, all the pre-inauguration euphoria somewhat eclipsed the fact that yesterday, the third Monday of January, was Martin Luther King Day, a hard-won public holiday. Cold as the weather is, I seriously considered staying indoors to watch the biopic King on television.
But we bravely headed into town towards the Symposium on the New Terms of engagement with Africa for the Obama Administration organised by Africa Aspire — "an initiative of Africans, the African diaspora and friends of Africa, political and cultural leaders, academics, business people and professionals dedicated to forging a new and robust partnership between the USA and Africa".
We, by the way, being my intrepid niece Dawn (driving), her daughter Joanna (a Yale undergrad who, for her sins, is my namesake though known by her middle name), my sister Eileen and me. Negotiating the increasingly heavy traffic on 16th Street we passed some demonstrators carrying placards - "ARREST BUSH" … "NO MORE US TAX DOLLARS TO PHILIPPINE DEATHS SQUADS!" - and chanting: "You can't run, you can't hide; we charge you with genocide!"
So solid was the traffic that by the time we reached the venue of the symposium we had missed all but the tail-end of it, though there was still plenty of networking being done. Good to chat briefly with Baroness Valerie Amos.
Having met up with a long-time friend Washington-based friend Andrea, we decided to continue the socialising at the Marriott Hotel, thronging with celebrants and party-goers. In the bar a beguiling Korean war veteran called Frank approaches us, his cap proclaiming him a member of "Ernie Pyle Chapter 12 Maryland" (Pyle was a famous American journalist who died in combat in the Second World War). He successfully interests us in some special commemorative Obama buttons at $5 apiece and we get into conversation about the history we are sharing. A 79-year-old Washintonian, Frank has been around for many inaugurations: "But I've never seen crowds like this for any other president. Kennedy was a festive time but security was nothing like this. I've never seen traffic like this in my whole life."
Andrea recalls the exact moment in 2007 when she became convinced that what we are about to witness was not just a dream. "I was walking down the street during the spring break when a young white student came up to me and asked if I would support Barack Obama for president. That's when I thought that if this young woman who could be on the beach in Cancun was using her spring break to get me to contribute to the Obama campaign, then he was going to win."
With all the millions of people filling DC, and the routes into town blocked off, it's going to be impossible to drive anywhere tomorrow, so we've decided to stay at Andrea's apartment, which is within walking distance of Pennsylvania Avenue. On the teaming subway here, I hardly expected to bump into anyone I knew from London but suddenly there was literary activist Kadija George.
While my intrepid nieces were up for tracking down ever more parties and rumours of parties — the Huffington Post, Stevie Wonder - we members of the older generation were happy to raise a glass at home, saving ourselves for The Big Day.