Across deep blue Massachusetts, the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris brought forth an unfamiliar, but welcome, feeling among their supporters: hope.
There was hope in living rooms, in hospitals, in barbershops and day-care centers, as people paused to savor the moment, just two weeks after a violent siege on the Capitol, and after a year-long pandemic that has claimed 400,000 American lives.
Hope — and pride, as Harris became the first woman, the first Black person, and the first South Asian American to be vice president. Some of the Massachusetts faithful found themselves so electrified they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sleep.
Dr. Sharma Joseph, an anesthesiologist at Tufts Medical Center, had spent the past 24 hours working in the ICU with COVID-19 patients. She put her Airpods in as soon as she left the hospital Wednesday morning to hear what was happening, and when she got back to her home in Roxbury at 9:30 a.m., there was no way she was going to bed. She wanted to watch history unfold.
“I’m kind of running on adrenaline at this point,” she said before the swearing-in, laughing. “Since the announcement that Biden won, I’ve been counting down the days for this moment to arrive.”
Joseph’s family in Canada, the West Indies, and the Caribbean had been watching the transition closely, texting her about it from afar. She was moved by the pomp and circumstance of the day, the flags waving, Harris and Biden walking up the steps before the ceremony. It reminded her of the moment when first year medical students take an oath.
“It brings this renewal and breath of fresh air and optimism,” Joseph said, even for those who feel jaded by years in the field.
Lori Leonard Mahoney, of Medford, didn’t get much sleep either — her heart was beating too fast. She was up texting with her girlfriends on a group chat before dawn on Wednesday, and bounced out of bed when her 3-year-old woke her at 5:30 a.m.
She has struggled through the pandemic; she was laid off from her job as a creative director and her son was stuck at home for weeks without child care.
But Inauguration Day promised a new beginning, Mahoney said. She wanted her little boy, whose day care was streaming the inauguration when she dropped him off, to see a woman for the first time taking on one of the most powerful roles in the country.
“He’s going to grow up with that being normal. It’s just normal,” Mahoney said, almost in disbelief. She has been trying to explain the political consequences, too.
“I can only really phrase it in terms of good guys and bad guys,” she said. “I’ve just been telling him, the good guys are going to help us now, and the bad guys are going home.”
The inauguration, like most gatherings in the age of COVID, was pared down, and many residents watched the proceedings by themselves or with just a few others. (Others in Massachusetts, not keen to see Biden become president, said they would steer clear of the inauguration festivities entirely).
For many, it was a momentous day, commemorated from a distance.
“Today sitting at home in my pearls and Chuck Taylors — as a woman of color, I saw myself,” Representative Liz Miranda said in a statement.
Wednesday morning also found 169 members of Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, joined together virtually, many decked out in pearls and the sorority’s signature pink and green to watch Harris take the oath.
“It is just incredibly joyous for us,” said Kathy Lucas, the Boston chapter president.
Local members of the AKAs said that they were disappointed that COVID-19 and security concerns had prevented them from celebrating in D.C., but that the chapter’s members gathered virtually instead. The group, Lucas said, would be praying for Harris as the new administration takes office on the heels of the Capitol attack and amid deep political divides..
The AKAs, the oldest Greek letter organization founded by Black women, mobilized to support Harris in her initial bid to be the country’s first Black woman president and then in her vice presidential candidacy.
“It’s a very emotional day for us, and one that we never thought would be coming,” said Chenita Daughtry, the chapter’s membership chair. “But it’s here.”
Doryce Smith, a 63-year-old member of the state Democratic committee who has been active in political organizing for 47 years, agreed the day had been a long time coming.
“Today is a win,” she said, adding that it was the culmination of years of political struggle.
Smith was hopeful that the Biden-Harris administration would include marginalized communities in the democratic process, and hear “the voices that were not listened to over hundreds of years,” particularly those of Black Americans calling for racial equity and an end to police brutality.
For some young activists who came of age during Donald Trump’s presidency, the inauguration ushered in a new era for organizing.
Calogano Chambers, a 19-year-old who identifies as African American and Honduran, said his family spent the past several days discussing the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., ongoing racial injustice, and the historic importance of this Inauguration Day.
“I definitely felt the relief,” Chambers said, after his family gathered around the TV in their Mattapan home to watch Biden and Harris sworn in. “We’ve been through so much bad from the previous year. Let’s start things off right.”
Even as they took in the spectacle, and soaked up the day’s optimism, a number of local Biden supporters said the inauguration was bittersweet. They were celebrating from far away, viewing a National Mall filled with flags instead of people. Biden asked for a moment of silence to honor those who had died in the last year.
“Today is a day of celebration, but it’s also a day of great responsibility,” said Cindy Rowe, a Brookline resident. Rowe is executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, which organized for Democratic candidates in 2020, and said she would normally travel to the capital for an inauguration.
“Instead,” she said, “I am here with my computer screen.”