Throngs at Berkeley witness dawn of the Obama era

| 20 January 2009

The mood was one of elation on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza as nearly 10,000 people — one of the site's largest crowds to date — witnessed the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama on big-screen TV.

Glued to the ObamaTron
Inauguration coverage from the Berkeleyan
Beneath a JumboTron broadcast from Washington D.C., campus leaders offered introductory remarks in the minutes leading up to Obama's swearing-in. Roxanne Winston, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, said the nation as a whole had decided in November that "if we … choose to be a bastion for free speech, social change, and civic engagement, then we need to have a leader who embodies those ideals."

In "a major step toward equity and inclusion," said Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, "America has judged Barack Obama not on the color of his skin, but on the content of his character." Despite the severity of the problems now facing the nation and the world, he said, "people watching throughout the country are watching with unprecedented pride and hope."

Those emotions were palpable on the storied "ground zero" of the Free Speech Movement. "Somebody can hand me a flag and I'd be happy to wave it," said Jessica Broitman — there with her son Jacob, 17, and her husband, Gibor Basri, the campus's vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. As a biracial couple, she said, there were times when "people would not let us in their door." For her and her family, she said, "this one of the most momentous days in our lives."

During Obama's inaugural address, the new president's reference to science and higher education drew a loud cheer from the Berkeley throng. "We will restore science to its rightful place," said Obama, "and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age."

As measured in decibels of applause, other oratorical high points included: "The question today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers," and a direct appeal to those watching around the world: "Know that America is a friend of each nation."