Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dear World, We're Back! Love, U.S.A.

UPDATE:  A better picture of this sign was Twitpic'd HERE by Twitter user infernoenigma.  From there it got "Dugg" up the charts. See it on Digg HERE.  All Tweeters and Diggers, I welcome debate and discussion in the comments section. 

In an earlier post, I solicited suggestions for what to write on the homemade sign I would carry around on Inauguration Day. I decided to go with a short and sweet message: Dear World, We're Back! Love, U.S.A.

I was astounded by the reactions this sign received. I held it while I was waiting in the glacial line to get through the security checkpoint. I'm not exaggerating when I say that every person who saw the sign had a positive reaction. So many people stopped and wanted to take a picture that I started to worry that the crowd would further clog up the street, so I took the sign down every now and then. I think it helped keep people in a good mood while we were all wondering if we'd get on to the Mall in time. 

Some people simply wanted to take a picture. Other people wanted to stand by me and have a friend take their picture. Still others wanted to take the sign from me and have their picture taken holding it. People in line started joking that I should be selling photos for $5 a pop.  

I knew that signs weren't allowed at the ceremony, so before we passed through security, I folded it up and stuffed it in the manilla envelope that held our tickets.

Once the ceremony was over, I pulled the sign out again and held it over my head in the crowd. People loved it. Hundreds of people took pictures with their digital cameras and cell phones. Maybe ten people that looked like media photographers snapped shots and a few cameramen zoomed in on it as well.
One guy took a picture and said, "This is goin' up on an Irish website!" 

Another guy said, "This is goin' back to Australia!" 

I think I gave an interview to a reporter from a small newspaper in California, but I can't be sure. 

One guy handed me a dollar bill and said, "Here man, you ought to be getting paid." 

A woman gave me a granola bar and said, "This will help you keep up the energy."  

This went on for some time. At one point, I climbed up on a concrete barrier in front of the Capitol and held the sign up in the freezing wind. I thought I was going to get knocked off the wall when people surged forward to take pictures and jump up beside me. I could have stayed out there all day (I kept joking that I would wait there until the Washington Post came by), but it was cold and getting windier and we were tired and hungry and thirsty. (So I guess it's more accurate to say I could not have stayed out there all day.)

It was exciting to see how much everyone wanted to echo the sentiment on my sign. It really did seem to capture what I think was one of the two big themes expressed in the crowd. The first theme was the elation, pride, and everything else that goes along with electing the first African-American president. The second theme--which the sign was a part of--was something like this: 
America is undergoing a restoration and reclamation. We are restoring government so that it works for us instead of against us. We humbly seek to earn a position of moral authority and honorable leadership in the world. We want the people of the world to know that we hear them. We want them to know that we as a people are better than these last eight years, that our government has not represented us. Our government has been a vicious and alien thing sitting on top of us instead of a compassionate and democratic thing rising up from us. We're putting those disgraceful years behind us, and we're going to set things right. We're moving forward. We're back.
I think if my sign had said those words, the reactions would have been the same (although people would have had to spend 30 seconds reading it). I believe the general attitude that we are back is part of why the crowd was so cheerful and hopeful. News reports say there were zero arrests at the inauguration. Two million people and no arrests. I have a feeling that big things are coming and that maybe everyone is underestimating the kind of transformation that is going on in the country.   


Becky said...

That is amazing! I mean, it's a good sign, but I didn't think people would have such a reaction to it. I figured lots of people would make signs. But good on ya!

I think a post about your storied history of sign-holding would be in order: what the sign said, where you stood, and what the response was.

Sarah Mac said...

I second that, Dave! I think I've only heard about one sign when you were in college, we want to hear more!

Good job on the Inauguration sign! I soooo wish I could have been there.

Bren said...

Ha! Take a look at this:

You're getting digg'd!

Nicely lettered, by the way.

Lizzer said...

Well said.

Cassie said...

Great post.

Your sign is perfect... makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even more than the Free Hugs sign did.

Someone call Oprah, STAT.

DEb said...

Your sign made me smile! We've been gone a lot longer than the last eight years - Bush was just the penultimate result of an attitude that started long before him. We're back - and it feels soo good! Thanks for carrying the sign for all of us who are thrilled to feel like we're part of a great country again!

Michele said...

Perfect and to the point. The way a good sign should be. Thanks for thinking of it.

Nancy Tarr said...

Great sign and also so great you mentioned that there were no arrests. I heard that on NPR too. Unbelievable and transforming at the same!!!

Cyndee said...

I disagree. 'We' never left.

'We' shall see exactly where 'we' stand when history is written in a few years.

Brightest blessings to all of you!

Carol Cole-Lewis said...

Yes. What a thrilling experience for you to tell your children and grandchildren. A great and true sentiment, and one echoed by MANY!

Anonymous said...

You're famous now, man! Found a pic of it on Twitpic that Pete from Mashable linked to.

Awesome sign.

pete said...

Great sign! Great post.

Glad to have you back.
From Amsterdam, with love.

Anonymous said...

I saw your photo on Twitter.

I loved to read the story behind the photo!

Welcome back :-)

Hootie said...

I want that "twitpic" page with you holding the sign to have a link to this blog... at the very least, a copy/paste of your expanded message (the one that would take 30 seconds to read.)

Might help spoon-feed those chuckleheads who are commenting "I didn't know we had gone anywhere."

Just a thought, if it hasn't happened already.

Madhava said...

What a wonderful sign, a wonderful attitude, a wonderful experience. Life can be awesome when we stick together with love and respect for everyone.

Christine said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story and posting your blog site on the Twitter photo page. The guy who took that picture- I know his Grandfather. He sent me the link because he knew as a photographer, I would "get" the power of a photograph.

I couldn't go on Tuesday. But, I'm glad you went and shared your story. Peace :)

Elizabeth said...

The lettering is absolutely perfect.

Maybe we really should have made more...

Anonymous said...

Leave the rest of the world alone, folks. Only tactics will change and strategy will remain the same as far as we see. Open your eyes and read your own history critically.

Better Than Machines said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Elizabeth, you're right! While you were masterfully outlining the letters and I was tediously coloring them in, I had no idea so many people would see it. We could have used colors!

To the anonymous commenter, I'd say that the U.S. is a leader in the world whether we like it or not. Too often we've been a tyrant. I think it's time for us to be something else.

What is it from history that you think I'm overlooking?

Amy said...

Wow--props to you, Dave! You clearly hit a nerve.

I agree--I think whether "we" like it or not, the world looks to the US. That may sound arrogant to some, but as someone who lives overseas, I have had many, many people who aren't American say that to me. I tend to downplay "our" influence, but I am continually confronted with those from other nations who feel it--for better and oftentimes worse.

Anonymous person...would be interested to hear some clairification, too. :)

Amy said...

Oops, I do in fact know how to spell clarification.

Anonymous said...

Well, to clarify.

I fully understand that America leads. I have no illusions here. This is precisely why, for me, as a non-American, it scares me when you say: "We're Back."

"Back" in what sense?

As far as I can recall, the world before Bush (as far as American policies are concerned) was filled with America's tyranny (Republican or Democrat). Bush was a mere instrument executing strategic plans that pre-dates him through new means that amplified this already existing tyranny.

In this context, the sign's insinuation that America was a better world player before Bush is misleading and, for someone like me, scary.

Perhaps I read too much into the sign which, perhaps, was intended as a simple expression of relief and hope for change to the better. But, on first reading, that's how I felt and, hence, my comments.

God help us all.

Better Than Machines said...

The sign was indeed meant as an expression of relief and hope. I also wanted people around the world to know that many of us Americans are as relieved as they are that Bush has been relegated to a gated community in Texas.

I believe we are "back" in the sense that we now have an administration that is not directly hostile to ordinary working Americans and not an embarrassment and horror on the world stage. We're also "back" in the sense that I think we've changed our general trajectory. I think we are beginning a repudiation of Reaganism, dominant here for the last three decades. By "We're Back," I don't mean that we've arrived, but I do mean we're at least out of the ditch and back on the road.

If I had one worry about my sign, it was that it would be interpreted as mindless flag-waving, just jingoism from the Left. I talk more about that in the subsequent post, "What My Sign Means." I hope you'll continue to visit this blog, because there will be plenty of times when I hold Democrats' feet to the fire and plenty of times when I'll talk about a vicious foreign policy that has been practiced under presidents from both parties.

Wendy said...

Dave, I was standing near you at the inauguration and was one of the many people who took your picture that day. I said, "You're going to be all over the Internet!" Afterward, I was walking along the road between the silver and non-ticketed mall section and saw you standing on a curb, dozens of people taking your picture just as Bush's helicopter passed overhead! What a moment.

Jen said...

Dear Better than Machines --

Yes, we're back! My first gut reaction was AMEN, BROTHER! Never mind about anonymous. Yes, America's been an ugly place for years and years (some would say it's been ugly since the first Europeans landed here). But the US (and world) took a drastic, horrible turn for the worse in the last 8 years. And for the first time in over 8 years, I feel somewhat patriotic and hopeful ... very odd for this wacky "progressive" nut-job.

No, Obama isn't perfect and I know one man can't solve all our problems ... but at last, AT LAST! America has set out on the road to RECONCILIATION and HEALING.

Good grief -- when we have a president who OPENLY says we don't have to follow the Geneva Convention, and a Vice President who claims he's NOT in the executive branch (um....) -- well, what else can I say?