Mainers crowd into capital to witness history

Posted Jan. 20, 2009, at 9:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Maine residents walked, squeezed and jostled their way among record crowds Tuesday to catch a glimpse of Barack Obama as he became the 44th president of the United States.

They came from diverse backgrounds and had widely varying views of the ceremony — from the shadow of the Capitol to the scrum of the National Mall to the comfort of a quiet room with a television at a nearby museum.

Despite the differences, they all shared the same enthusiasm for witnessing history in the making.

Androscoggin County Commissioner Elaine Makas said she left from Virginia around 6:30 a.m. to get the best position possible for the ceremony, even though she was one of those lucky enough to secure a ticket. Even then, the officials in front of the Capitol were only “little dots” from her ticketed section.

“It didn’t really matter,” she said. “I wasn’t there to see them clearly. If I wanted to do that, I could have stayed home in my hotel and seen it on TV. For me, the feeling was being with so many people. That was the nicest part at all.”

Makas said she arrived early, but a friend who planned to join her was not so lucky. When it became clear he was not going to make it through the crowds to meet her, she gave her extra seat to a black man who had come with his wife.

When Obama took the oath of office, the man and his wife said, “We finally did it,” Makas remembered.

“I looked at them and said, ‘We all finally did it,’” she said. The couple later hugged her after Obama delivered his speech.

Makas’ friend Maxine Porter called the event the culmination of a long struggle going back to the protests of the Civil Rights Movement.

“I’m a child of the ’60s,” she said. “We were the ones who got into trouble to get the ball rolling.”

Seal Harbor resident Sydney Roberts Rockefeller, 65, already had spent hours in the cold volunteering for Obama when he visited Bangor during the primaries. Rockefeller came to Washington after pulling together a trip with her friends in a matter of days. She said the crowds made people uncomfortable at times, but it “part of the whole event.”

“Every time you turned around, you were talking to somebody,” she said. “We were squished on the subway… and yet we were laughing and joking. You’re not going anywhere, so just make friends.”

Near the southern side of the Capitol, Castine resident Molly Mankiewicz, 21, said she came to see Obama after supporting him throughout last year’s election season and attending the Democratic National Convention.

Mankiewicz said the Obama campaign’s inclusiveness impressed her from the start.

“Obama lets you get involved,” she said. “It was easy to get involved.”

The election of the nation’s first black president was a historic moment, Mankiewicz said, though she added that Obama built his campaign by running as a “vehicle for change” who could appeal to all Americans rather than touting his race.

“He was saying, ‘You don’t like what’s going on. Do something about it,” the freelance film director said. “I’m young, and it was the first time I was ever interested in politics before now.”

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