CHARLOTTE HSU / LAS VEGAS SUN
Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Obama inauguration speech
Though he had secured a relatively good spot on the National Mall, Jashaun Kisling was unable to see the nation’s 44th president giving his inaugural address.
Kisling occasionally looked over to the giant screens to glimpse a close-up of President Barack H. Obama. But for most of Obama’s speech, the 18-year-old North Las Vegan’s gaze was fixed on the Capitol in the distance, the look in his eyes that of a man deep in thought, carefully considering every word.
“A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous,” Obama said. Kisling nodded slowly.
For the College of Southern Nevada student working toward a degree in videography and film, Obama’s candidacy was transformative. A year ago, Kisling knew little about politicians and cared less.
“Coming from my neighborhood,” he said, “you don’t think they care for you.”
Kisling is not just the only one from his old circle of friends who attends college, he’s the only one who completed high school, he said.
When Democrats picked Obama this summer as their presidential nominee, Kisling started paying attention to national politics.
Here was a man who was a community organizer, a man who wanted to make it easier for people to obtain proper health care. In short, Kisling said, a man who wanted to make life better for people like the ones in his North Las Vegas community, to give them hope.
In the months preceding the election, Kisling registered about 20 of his friends to vote. He enrolled in CSN instructor Mark Peplowski’s class, which centered on a one-and-a-half week trip to the East Coast to learn about the nation’s history and political institutions — and to attend the inauguration of the new president.
Like so many others who were on the National Mall on Tuesday, Kisling said: “I’m going to be able to tell this to my kids: ‘When Obama became president, I was there. I was part of it.’ ”
For Brenda Montoya, a teacher at Foothills Montessori School in Henderson, Tuesday was a day of joy and disappointment: joy, because she had the opportunity to be in the capital when the nation’s first black president took office; disappointment, because she ended up watching the inauguration at a hotel Starbucks even though she had a ticket for the event.
Montoya, a member of CSN’s Capitol Club, which encourages participation in politics, government and public service, had a pass to enter the purple section and began waiting in line in freezing temperatures before 9 a.m.
About 11 a.m., she took a cab to a local Hyatt after a security guard informed her that the purple area had already filled up. Some members of the crowd were angry.
“I thought they were going to stampede,” Montoya said. “Officers down in the surrounding area were yelling, ‘Don’t walk faster than the person in front of you.’ ”
Despite the disappointment, Montoya, who was a stay-at-home mom for 16 years before becoming a teacher five years ago, said her trek to the District of Columbia was still worthwhile.
Even if she couldn’t watch the inauguration in person, she got to experience the excitement that has engulfed the nation’s capital this week.
“People had been in line for hours and they were uncomfortable and cold, and people were still excited,” said Montoya, a registered independent voter who considers herself a political moderate. “There was a good energy, except for a few people. They were just so excited. So we have a new beginning.”
Of Obama, she said, “I felt he is able to inspire people, and if he can inspire people to do better, to get people to donate their time, to help others and be responsible, I don’t think that we can ask for anything more.”
On several counts, 19-year-old CSN sophomore Tommy Steele seemed like one of the people least likely to cross the country to attend Tuesday’s inauguration.
And yet he expected the effect it would have on him would be similar to the effect the 1963 Rose Garden handshake with JFK had on the teenage Bill Clinton.
Clinton said he knew the moment he shook Kennedy’s hand that he wanted a career in public service.
“You see a picture of Clinton shaking JFK’s hand, and that for him was such a personal source of motivation,” said Steele, who hopes to run for office someday, perhaps for Congress or the U.S. Senate. “It helped him realize why he wanted to be in public service.”
Steele said he knew his would not be as personal a connection. “I’m not going to shake Obama’s hand,” he said, “but I can say ‘I was there’ ” for the inauguration.
Another big difference: Steele is a Republican who voted for the Libertarian presidential candidate in November. And Steele is such a fan of maverick Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., that he joined Campaign for Liberty, a nonprofit Paul created to harness grass-roots support to defend principles including free markets and limited government.
For Steele, Obama is a source of inspiration not for his political views but for his ability to interest the masses in politics.
“The entire town and all the people that I meet are completely engaged in the political event that is the inauguration,” Steele said Monday.
Sitting on the carpeted floor of one of three apartments that the 24-member CSN group led by Peplowski shared in Suitland, Md., Steele recalled how, last May, when he visited Washington for the first time, he overheard travelers on the city’s subway system chatting about their day.
Now, Steele said, the talk is all about Obama and what people want to see from the new administration.
The fact that people who never voted before went to the polls for Obama, that young folks who once cared little about politics are discussing green energy because Obama made the issue a priority, that small donations from millions of supporters helped finance Obama’s campaign — all that, Steele said, is cause for celebration.
Seeing Obama’s success gives Steele hope that in the future, candidates he favors will reach the masses with their messages, too — candidates like Ron Paul, whose long-shot presidential bid failed but drew attention for the passion of its supporters.
Obama, Steele said, showed “there is a chance for you to run and win a campaign that some people thought could never happen.”
In deciding to attend the inauguration, Steele “looked at it beyond partisanship.”
“I don’t have anything in common for the most part with (Obama’s) politics. But the magnitude of the inauguration itself and where we are in the history, I think it goes above all that.”
“When you look back and see FDR’s inauguration, JFK’s, it would have been interesting to say, ‘I was there.’ Not to say, ‘I was there as a Democrat’ or ‘I was there as a Republican,’ but that ‘I was there.’ ”