Idahoans make pilgrimage to witness history

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 19, 2009 

WASHINGTON ­­— Matt Kopydlowski belted it out, and he belted it out loud.

"Everybody say 'Idaho!'" the Idaho State University student shouted, eliciting made-for-the-camera grins from about 200 people from Idaho, all posing for a group photo in the chilly January air in front of the U.S. Capitol.

"Idaho!" hollered the crowd of mostly Democrats, who gathered to commemorate their visit to Washington D.C. to see Barack Obama's inauguration.

The Idaho Democrats, outnumbered by Republicans back at home, savored the energy of a city swelled by hundreds of thousands of like-minded people intent on witnessing the historic swearing-in of the nation's first African-American president.

"Especially coming from Idaho, it's nice to be around other Democrats," said Henry Woodley of Boise, there with his wife, Sarah. "How could we not come?"

Kopydlowski said he made his first trip to Washington D.C. to "be a part of history. It's hard to get a sense of American history when you're so far west, because it's so new."

In Washington, on the eve of the inauguration, Kopydlowski said he was thrilled to be "surrounded by people who believe in the bright future ahead of us."

"It's the thrill of a lifetime," said Keith Roark, the Idaho Democratic Party chairman. "I feel like this is even more important than the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Martin Luther King's speech of 1963. We could very well look back on this as a transformational moment."

And while Obama may not have carried Idaho, Democrats made serious headway in the 2008 election, said the campaign's state director, Kassie Cerami, who was wearing the same blue "Obama for Idaho" button she pinned to her coat every day during the campaign. Idaho "went from the reddest state to the fifth-reddest state," Cerami said proudly.

For many from Idaho, the trek to Washington to see Obama's inauguration was something of a pilgrimage.

"You keep hearing 'one nation,'" said ReBecca Suits of Boise, who attended the Democratic Convention in Denver this summer as a delegate from Idaho. "But now I think we're going to finally become what people have dreamed of."

Suzanne Rubin, a schoolteacher at Eagle Middle School, put it simply: "He just represents hope for this country, and we need it," she said of Obama.

New U.S. citizen Ajsa Bektic of Boise cast her first-ever presidential vote for Obama, and the 25-year-old got misty eyed as she described what his election meant to her. Bektic, who came to Boise as a refugee from Bosnia as a teen in 2000, said she sees her own story in that of the president-elect's accomplishments.

"He represents a dream come true," said Bektic, now a research analyst at the Idaho Department of Labor.

Jason Morales of Boise brought his 8-year-old son, Sequoia, and was meeting his father for a multigenerational gathering.

"It's something I thought we could share together," he said, "It's the most historic occasion of my lifetime."

The gathering on the Capitol grounds made something of a spectacle, even in the midst of the thousands of people from all over the country who were wandering around Monday after picking up their tickets to the inauguration.

Singer Carole King, who owns a ranch near Stanley, joined the Idahoans and posed for photos. King was scheduled to perform Monday night at a dinner at Union Station in Vice President-elect Joe Biden's honor.

Stephen Couckuyt, an Alaskan, said he didn't have much room to poke fun, but he watched while the photo was snapped and quipped, "I didn't know there were that many people in Idaho!"

It echoed the remarks of Obama himself, who when he visited Boise Feb. 2, said "They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho — that's what they told me," he said. "But I didn't believe them."

The Idaho Democratic Party organized Monday's group photo, and its members posed proudly with their newly elected Democratic congressman, Rep. Walt Minnick.

But Republicans showed up, too. Sen. Jim Risch, also new to Congress this year, posed for photos and greeted fellow Idahoans shivering in the cold — but all thrilled to be there.

Said Bonner Bray of Boise, a Democrat: "It's just a big, huge experience."

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