By Marianna Levine
Hugs awaited friends and neighbors as they entered Bay Street Theater on Tuesday morning for a live screening of the Inauguration of America’s 44th President. People couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces as they scanned the capacity crowd within the theater that included several families with children. At one point the audience chuckled as a toddler danced joyously on stage in front of the screen, perhaps wishing to join in her unselfconscious dance of joy. For the most part people sat transfixed in their seats, at least those who were lucky enough to get a seat, watching with awe the crowds gathered on the Mall as well as the procession of VIPs on screen leading up to the moment Barack Obama came out onto the front steps of the Capitol to take the oath of office. The crowd stood up and cheered as the almost President Obama’s image appeared on screen.
Bay Street Theater directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis said they decided to host the presidential debates, Election Day results, and the inauguration because they wanted to serve the community. They really wanted local residents to see the theater as a community center, and to use it as such.
And besides Ms. Christopher said, “it’s really theater. It’s superb!” On a personal level Mr. Davis said viewing the democratic process had reinforced for him, “that we can be a great country.” Ms. Christopher added that she had actually attended Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a Dream Speech” in 1963, and that the election of Barack Obama really symbolizes how far we’ve come.
In the audience was at least one other person who had heard Mr. King’s famous speech in person. Pamela Harris, a Southampton resident was a ten-year-old child when she walked the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1963. She sat with tears in her eyes as she watched the live coverage.
“I am beside myself here. I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime,” said Ms. Harris. “When I was a child there were people in America who were being killed because they had the audacity to go out and vote. When I was growing up in this country there were no black people on TV. If one came on it was such an event we’d call people to let them know.”
Her friend Rita White, of Southampton said, “I really see this as a new beginning. A positive beginning that brings everyone together in American and in the world. My cousins in Germany told me I had to vote for Obama!”
White recalled being a child in Brooklyn with a German mother during World War II, and being stoned in the street because of their heritage, despite the fact they were American. She said it was most important to her that people didn’t continue to judge each other by their differences, and that this president symbolized this promise for the future.
Michel Mazuret, originally from France but currently an East Hampton resident, said he had to come to Bay Street to watch this event with a crowd because, “this is an exciting moment. All of Europe is having a big party today. Everybody over there is watching and listening. We need this big change for the planet.”
Audience members sitting around him nodded in agreement, as they watched yet more people pour into the theater. At one point there was a line of people waiting to get in, and theater management opened up the rehearsal space at the top and pushed some chairs together so more people could fit in safely.
As Obama took the oath of office several people wept and held on to the person seated next to them, as he finally became the president, the crowd stood up and, roared its approval for at least a minute. People were screaming and shouting with joy. His greatly anticipated inaugural speech silenced the crowd as they nodded approvingly to the President’s statement that “our common humanity will reveal itself” and that “we’ve chosen hope over fear.”Â Occasionally breaking out into applause or words of assent.
After his speech the audience stood and joined together in a heart-felt national anthem. With continuing smiles, and hugs of farewell many people left after that. However several people lingered in the afterglow of the jubilant proceedings.
Katharine Battle, a community activist and Sag Harbor resident, commented, “How good it was to have a president who is articulate. Especially one who could articulate the specific issues of our generation.”
Liz Oldak, a Pierson Sophomore who attended the viewing with her parents, would certainly agree with Ms. Battle. She said originally she wasn’t that involved with the presidential election, but once she heard that the then Senator Obama was proposing to have a Secretary of Technology she got more involved because she felt this candidate really understood what was important in the present and the future. She also said her parents had almost nightly discussions with her about Presidents Obama’s historic significance.