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First-hand account of history: Screven Countians go to D.C. to see inauguration

They traveled by train, bus and airplane – five ScrevenCounty residents who made the trek to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20 to witness Barack Obama being sworn in as the nation’s 44th president.

 

They were among more than 1 million people gathered at the National Mall, sometimes crowded very close together, braving temperatures that started out that Tuesday morning in the teens.

 

“It was not a place for someone claustrophobic,” said 23-year-old Rachael Toy, who campaigned for Obama in Ohio before the election and rode a train to WashingtonD.C., for the inauguration. She joked that she had her arms around one stranger for so long that they were going to buy curtains together later.

 

But there were no strangers – only friends who hadn’t met yet.

 

Rodney Williams, who flew from Savannah to WashingtonD.C., said a man in the crowd gave him his hat. “My bald head,” Williams said. “You need this more than I do.”

 

All of those attending say the trip was worth it -- despite the crowds and cold and the fact that after hours of waiting to get through the gates, their reward, if they were lucky, was a view of other attendees and the action on stage via big-screen TVs.

 

They were a part of history.

 

“I have stories to tell,” Toy said. “I was a dot but I was there.”

 

Wesley Stewart, Lydia Daley and Patricia Davis drove to Augusta and caught a tour bus that drove up late Monday and back late Tuesday. They said everyone was in a good mood – singing and chatting the whole way.

 

“It was very exciting – a great experience,” Davis said.

 

Stewart was laid off several months ago after working eight-and-a-half years as a forklift driver at Viracon Inc. in Statesboro. He said going to the inauguration made him feel hopeful.

 

“I wish everyone could have been there,” he said. Stewart said he doesn’t expect Obama to single-handedly fix the nation’s woes. “He’s going to help, but we’ve got to help ourselves,” Stewart said. He said he’s been looking unsuccessfully for a job but in the meantime, he’s doing some work in the lawn and mulch business.

 

Daley said the entire world was watching and she wanted to be there. “This is history,” she said. “I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandchildren I was there.”

 

It was the most polite crowd they’d ever seen. Williams said when people inevitably bumped into each other, instead of being cross, they’d give each other a hug. There were lots of tears of happiness.

 

“That’s the most crying I’ve ever seen in one place,” Williams said.

 

He stayed overnight in a hotel he’d reserved 11 months ago. “I knew Bush was going to go,” he said.

 

The crowd booed Bush and Cheney as they took the stage. And after the ceremony, as Bush’s helicopter flew by carrying him out of town, a chant of “na na na na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” made its way through the huge crowd.

 

Williams said the chant started way at the other end of the crowd and slowly rippled through the thousands and thousands of people.

 

As a campaign worker, Toy attended the Obama for America Staff Ball at the D.C. Armory Wednesday night. The senior at BrenauUniversity in Gainesville, Ga., and 2004 graduate of ScrevenCountyHigh School got to see Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden at the ball – up close and in person.

 

She said Obama urged the campaign workers to retain their optimism and conviction and keep striving to better the world. “Whatever you’re doing, organize wherever you go,” Toy said Obama told the crowd. “Show how much you care. Don’t let everything you’ve done be in vain.”