(Part 2) Behind the Scenes: Peace Corps Community at the Inaugural Parade
By Erica Burman on Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
(Continued from here.)
While we were stalled on Constitution Avenue we did our best to distract ourselves from the cold. We stamped our feet. We traded cheers of “Yes! Yes! Yes, we do! We’ve got the spirit, what about you?!” with the marching band from Maine in front of us. We responded to shouted requests from two Argentinian tourists who wanted to take pictures of the marcher holding their flag. We gathered in a “penguin huddle”–it really did help keep us warm!
And we were heartened when Sen. Harris Wofford and his two grandsons joined us. Sen. Wofford–”there at the creation” of Peace Corps, first Ethiopia Country Director, early Obama supporter and adviser on national service issues–had been at the Capitol Hill luncheon where Senators Kennedy and Byrd were stricken and persevered through numerous layers of security to join us. He chatted with RPCVs and did a little dance when the Maine band struck up a tune. I worried that he was seriously underdressed for the cold, but NPCA Vice President Anne Baker was at least able to gave him some of those chemical handwarmers.
The sun was starting to hang low in the west. Would we end up marching in the dark? Faintly, then more strongly, we picked up the roar of the crowds a few blocks away. The Presidential motorcade was finally inching down Pennsylvania Avenue, which meant we would soon be underway. Hoards of people, defeated by the cold, were streaming away from the parade route. We got the signal! Time to march!
Re-energized (and just happy to be moving!) we held our flags high. Law enforcement officers from all over the U.S. lined the way to the starting point of the parade, and many smiled and took photos of our group. People yelled and waved at us from behind fences on the Mall. We walked between the National Gallery of Art and the East Wing of the National Gallery and finally, we were at the official starting point. We were marching!
The rest is kind of a blur. We were giddy with excitement, smiling and waving as people shouted out to us from the sidewalks, from the now sparsely populated bleachers–even from the rooftops. “Woohoo Peace Corps!” “Go Peace Corps!” I kept looking back at the beautiful, inspiring sea of flags held by generations of RPCVs–and even two serving volunteers!–capturing the diversity of the Peace Corps Community. We looked fabulous.
At several points in the parade, we heard an announcer proclaim:
Midway through the parade, Tim Shriver, son of Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver jogged back to join us briefly, greeting Harris and others. He and his brother Mark were marching with the Special Olympics, two parade “elements” in front of us.
Up ahead, lit like a Hollywood soundstage, was the presidential reviewing box in front of the White House. And then we were there. On the left, at street level but behind glass, were the Obamas, the Bidens and others–but of course we only had eyes for the President and First Lady. They were *that* close. We had put the Kenya and Indonesia flags–both countries with Obama connections–in the first row, far left, so that the President would be sure to see them. When the President and Vice President saw that Harris was marching with us, they smiled widely, pointed at him and continued to wave and smile at our motley procession, pointing out flags, making eye contact with the joyful marchers. It was grand. You can see us at the 37 minute, 44 second mark on C-SPAN. A YouTube clip of us marching, (lower quality) can be seen here.
We continued for several blocks along a comparatively darkened Pennsylvania Avenue. It seemed there were more onlookers than along the official parade route, and all were still wildly enthusiastic…shouting to us, giving us the “thumbs up” and “peace” signs. Tim and Mark Shriver, clad in their bright yellow Special Olympic jackets, had peeled off from the parade, but stood on the sidelines yelling loudly and waving their arms. “Go Peace Corps! Go Peace Corps!”
It was truly an amazing day on so many levels. The parade itself was only 30 minutes, but the symbolism of those flags, of marchers representing almost 50 years of service to others overseas, sent a powerful message of hope and new beginnings around the world.
Many volunteers have already written about their experience marching. Here are a few links:
Rajeev Goyal (Nepal) Huffington Post – Kennedy’s Kids Then, Obama’s Kids Now
Audrey Scott (Estonia) Uncornered Market – Inauguration Day, She Said: Peace Corps on Parade
Peggy Murrah (Sierra Leone) Cocorioko – Peace Corps Volunteer Marches in Inaugural Parade
Jackie Spurlock (Iran) Iranian.com - Flying It High!
To see photos of the day, visit our Flickr set.
(The photo of the Peace Corps Community passing the reviewing stand is courtesy of the Washington Post and can be purchased here.)