January 27, 2013
By Sheila Simon
Many watched on television, and a select group with tickets got to see it up close. My family and I decided that we wanted to witness it as part of the crowd. A million people made that same decision.
In the photos, we were in the sea of people covered in warm layers, making the funny thudding sound of applause through gloves and mittens.
We stood near the Washington Memorial, far from the Capitol. A huge TV screen provided images and sound that kept starting and stopping. It gave the music the sound of old, warped records.
But we could hear most of the president’s speech. We heard him talk about self-evident truths that are not self-executing. We heard him draw guidance from struggles for equality in Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. We heard him echo Dr. Martin Luther King’s assessment that our individual freedoms are bound to the freedoms of all others.
And we heard the call to action instead of partisanship. “For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
The action we were called to take requires working together. “[P]reserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. … Now, more than ever, we must do these things as one nation, and one people.”
The president finished his speech to huge cheers from our portion of the crowd. As we realized that most of the rest of the program was music through the distorting sound system, most of us in the back headed away from the mall. As a very satisfied, if somewhat colder, family we started our mile or so walk to the closest Metro stop.
In the crowd of hundreds walking in our direction, we heard the sound of a choir, at first very distant. I kept looking to see where the group might be, but couldn’t locate it. By the time we were almost at the Metro stop, we realized that the choir was walking in front of us. They were walking more slowly, and we were able to catch up with them.
It was a small choir with no robes or anything else to indicate who they were, or even that they were traveling together. Their songs were not familiar, but they were beautiful. The last song we heard had most of the choir repeating the word “freedom” in a simple three-chord progression with rich harmony. A soloist sang a separate melody.
As my husband, daughter and I turned to go down the stairs to the subway, we could hear the choir continue to sing as they walked on.
The music performed at the Capitol that day must have been beautiful, if only the sound system could have conveyed it to the back of the crowd.
But the choir on 18th street was clear and perfect, proof of what can be accomplished only through common effort.
And we left for home with the sound of freedom in our ears.