Monday, June 29, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Friday, June 26 – This Day in History

The rainbow White House.
by Carol Joynt

If you listened to the live broadcast of President Obama in the Rose Garden, heralding the arrival of marriage equality in all 50 states, you heard them – birds chirping in the background throughout his remarks. A cynic such as Donald Trump would probably claim the chirping was a piped in recording, because that’s something he might do, but it wasn’t. The birds, in their own way, were echoing the phrase that rang from the Supreme Court building, down to Pennsylvania Avenue, to across the country: “love wins.”

This ebullient spirit may not last. It may retreat some; it may well get mired in the coming mud slinging of the 2016 Presidential campaign. But for Friday, June 26, a day that makes the history books, love prevailed.
The scene outside the Supreme Court on Friday, June 26.
Friday was remarkable in many ways, here and everywhere, and in the journalism business in particular, as breaking stories leap-frogged each other. The morning started with the horror of fresh terror attacks at a chemical plant in France, on a beach in Tunisia and in a mosque in Kuwait, resulting in the deaths of dozens. All on their own, these events would have coalesced the attention of the news cycle.

But when the clock hands – digital or analog – hit 10:00 am ET, attention turned to the Supreme Court. The steps were crowded with the anxious and hopeful, who burst into cheers when the Justices handed down their landmark 5-4 decision, making gay marriage a right. Notable though, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in this dissent:  The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
On hearing the news of the Justices 5-4 decision in favor of marriage equality.
CNN correspondent Pam Brown, reporting from the court, was ready and in the right place for the moment handed to her, standing beside same-sex marriage plaintiff Jim Obergefell when President Obama called him on his cell phone. Pam leaned her microphone toward Jim’s phone and the conversation got broadcast to the world.

President Obama: “Your leadership on this, you know, has changed the country.”

Jim: “I really appreciate that, Mr. President. It’s really been an honor for me to be involved in this fight and to have been able to, you know, fight for my marriage and to live up to my commitments to my husband. So I appreciate everything you’ve done for the LBGT community and it’s really an honor to have become part of that fight.”

President Obama:  “Well, we’re really proud of you. And you know, just know that, not only have you been a great example for people but you’re also going to bring about a lasting change in this country.”
The phone call heard round the world: CNN's Pam Brown leans in her microphone for President Obama's call to Jim Obergefell.
Pam let it play out until both men said good-bye. Moments later, the CNN coverage switched to the White House, where the President emerged in the Rose Garden.

It was a morning when if you had the opportunity to be near a TV, or a live-stream on your computer, or your device, there was no time to look away. A break didn’t come until the President boarded Air Force One to fly to Charleston for the day’s  next remarkable event, the funeral for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was among the nine people shot dead by Dylann Roof at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
At the funeral for her father, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Malana Pinckney looks over at the friends from Washington: President and Mrs. Obama and Vice President and Mrs. Biden.
The President and First Lady traveled with an entourage of key Washington officials, including Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (his first trip with President Obama on Air Force One).  The President gave the eulogy, which once again was a reason to be glued to a TV. If you haven’t seen this “sermon,” by the “Reverend President Obama,” do, and from beginning to end.

His words were important and stirring but his body language, his soul and spirit, were transcendent. It’s unlikely there’s a moment in presidential history that matches when Barack Obama broke into a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” The congregation lit up, social media lit up, too. My thoughts? “Sing it, Mr. President. Stay fearless.”
"Amazing Grace" at the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
As with the terror attacks, and the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, this moment would have owned any other typical news day. But Friday was not a typical news day. The news would not stop happening. By evening, CNN switched its live coverage to upstate New York, where police were hot on the trail of the two escaped prisoners. One of them, Richard Matt, had been killed, the other, David Sweat, was shot and caught last night.
When CNN aired its evening broadcast, “Anderson Cooper 360,” it was expanded to two hours to fit in everything that had happened and was happening. From time to time Cooper switched to a live shot of the front of the White House, which was washed with the colors of the rainbow, a symbol of the LGBT community. In the past the mansion has been bathed in pink light in honor of breast cancer awareness. So while not unique, it was still really something.

Spontaneously, late Friday night, I turned off history happening on television and got in the car to go experience it in person. A privilege of living in Washington is that we can easily join a crowd at the Supreme Court for a landmark decision or gather with others at the White House gates to behold the President’s house lit in the hues of the rainbow. As a journalist, it’s a matter of routine.
The celebration of marriage equality, and the chance to see the rainbow White House, drew families and tourists as well as gay couples.
Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House.
With so many incidents of fence jumpers and increased security around the White House it is easy to think it is more of a prohibitive armed camp. And in some ways that is true. Where once there was one fence, now there are added barriers. Where once there were some uniformed Secret Service, now there are a lot more. But that didn’t deter or dampen the festive atmosphere. A crowd can still peaceably gather. There were gay couples, of course, reportedly even a proposal of marriage; tourists, families, the curious. It was what the White House is for, to draw us there, to our house, to share in historic moments.
On the promenade in front of the White House fence.
An occasion to sit and ponder.
A father with his little girl eased as close to the barriers as is allowed. He handed her a sign and said, “Here you go, baby.” She smiled and gleefully hoisted it over her head. The words on it: “Love Wins.” She was very young and likely will grown up never knowing it was otherwise.

Now, if we could just make the same progress on the Confederate flag and what it has come to symbolize! But that’s another story ...
Photographs by Carol Joynt

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