Sunday, January 25, 2009
An American Liberation
The Bloor Cinema in Toronto is a slightly down-at-the-heels rep movie house in the University of Toronto neighborhood. It shows a lot of old films that are still worth seeing and some that are first run films as well. It smells like teen spirit from the 1960s. Lax Canadian marijuana laws also help.
On Inauguration Day, the movie house which can hold 1000 people, was taken over by Democrats Abroad. The feed from CNN would be shown on the big screen. Doors were open at 10:30 am, but by 9:30 when we got there, the line went around the block. It was only around 10º F but clear and no wind.
We stood in the freezing cold line. Usually movie lines in Canada are quiet and restrained. But this was a little bit of America in wintry Toronto. We talked with a couple from Kansas and California, a Ph.D. candidate who spent 7 years at UCLA (what’s the rush to finish?), a woman from New York who moved to Ottawa in 1970 and fled both her husband and the grim Canadian capital to move to a more amenable Toronto and a South African woman who lived in Connecticut and got US citizenship while she was there. We exchanged stories about what brought us to this place, our time in the US, why we all wished we were in Washington, DC on this day especially.
Up and down the line, there was a guy with a drum yelling “O-Ba-Ma” over and over again. Another selling love beads and Obama buttons. Local coffee shops did a brisk business. Capitalism is alive and well in Toronto.
Finally we got in, along with local tv crews who for some reason only interviewed black people: “How does it feel?" Thus confirming Walter Lippmann’s axiom that journalism is indeed a refuge for the vaguely talented...
The place was filled to capacity and there were concerns that the fire department would shut it down if more people tried to get in. CNN in all its hype and splendor was on the screen. When Dick Cheney or George W. Bush appeared, loud boos and hisses from the crowd. Barack and Michelle Obama were loudly cheered. No neutrality and few Republicans here.
There was also a screen on the sidewall where you could send text messages and they would be projected there. Interesting populist cyber-dynamic. The messages were as you might expect – emotional and powerful.
The US Consul-General tried to say a few words, but his timing wasn’t great. He started speaking just as Barack Obama came out on the dais on from of the Capitol. The crowd yelled at him to stop. The diplomat sensed the mood of the crowd and quickly withdrew. CNN's audio feed was immediately restored. The crowd cheered some more.
When President Obama was finally sworn in, every one in the cinema literally went crazy! One woman just in front of us was weeping and collapsed and had to be carried out.
We cried too and felt as close as we could to the event. We thought of all the people we knew in the US, and all of us who lived through the Bush years. It's not an accurate comparison, but as a recovering historian, I couldn't avoid the thought:
is this how people in Europe might have felt at the Liberation in 1945?