Bruce Williams proposed to his wife at the January 20, 2009 Washington, DC inauguration ceremony of the 44th president of the United States, Chicago’s own Barack Obama.
“Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” Obama’s speech on that day went. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many—and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
But, the inaugural speech continued: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
It was a very early morning. I think we had to get up at 4 to take the train down to that area. They didn’t allow any cars to travel into downtown DC, and then you had to wait in line. If you had tickets to be on the lawn you’d have to find the section where your tickets are for, and wait in line. I think we were in line for 3 hours or so. [Laughs.] We were in town for the prior week. We had just procured the tickets within the prior days. Acquiring those tickets was its own adventure, and we actually ended up with more tickets than we needed . . . You know, we were trying to finagle these tickets from this or that, and multiple sources came through.
My wife decided, at the point that there was going to be an inauguration, there was nothing that was going to keep her from going. Now, she comes from a political family and her father has been involved with Obama and was very involved in the civil rights movement so the symbolism of that moment was very important to that family. Whether I was going to be there or not, she was going, so I decided that I would go when I decided that I would ask her to marry me there.
We were separated for a couple of hours. It was good—I got to walk along the mall and really get a sense of just the huge amount of folks that were flowing into that area, and the closer you are to the capital the more well-heeled people tended to be—you just got to experience the general positivity and the multiracial peace and harmony and all of that. So to walk through it was kind of fun. And it also helped to keep warm. There were a lot of people making money selling glove warmers and this kind of thing, so we spent a lot of money on stuff that was [laughs]—that didn’t work so well, but we helped out the economy I guess.
So we finally got into the into the area and we were in front of a big screen but we were also in an area where we could see the stage as well, and—you almost had to actively try to stay focused on what was going on, because you were in the midst of all of these people. The experience was more the feeling of being there. If I was watching it on TV, the speeches would have been a little bit more impactful, but I came away with more the experience of being there. And then I’m nervous, I’m about to—you know—ask somebody to marry me for the first time in my 40-year-old life. I wanted to get someone that was standing around us to videotape the proposal but I ran out of videotape right towards the end. So eventually, Obama spoke, and directly after that is when I proposed.
She was very happy and then we went and had lunch with her father. Prior to that, I’d gone to his hotel room and asked his permission to marry her and showed him the ring. He called his wife, her mother, who was still in Chicago, and I had to ask her too. They were in favor so it went well. Then we had lunch and it was nice. I think she enjoyed the fact that her father was a part of that. She’s very close to him.
And then what happened the rest of the day? I guess after the inauguration there was the parade that we tried to experience but couldn’t. Then we had to go home and get ready for the balls that that night.
For me the biggest impact of his election was that it changed my view of America, of the country I lived in. Prior to him being elected, and even while he was running, it was my belief that there was no way that there were enough white people in this country that didn’t have racism as a core part of their being to elect a black man as president of this country. After Iowa, my mouth was just open. I mean Iowa, of all places, right? [Laughs.]
I’m not sure about how much impact it actually has on the country . . . . The country existed as it did prior to him running, and those people had those views regardless of him being there to, kind of, put them on display… I don’t know that more people are less racist as a result of him being in power.