Saturday, January 24, 2009
How Dr. Moyce Spent Inauguration Day
What did you do on Inauguration Day? Dr. Andrew Moyce of Oakland spent the day doing his civic duty: showing up for jury service at the Alameda County Courthouse.
He was ordered to be there by 8:30, with stern warnings about possible fines if he was late.
"The parking lot was full by the time I arrived at 8:15, and I had to find another lot across the street," he says. "That lot required a prepay ticket from a very slow machine, so I joined the line of a dozen or so fellow jurors waiting to pay.
"After that, a hurried walk all the way around the courthouse to find the only open entrance, followed by the security check. I got to the jury room, breathless, at about 8:45 and handed my papers to the admitting clerk."
The potential jurors - about 200 people, ranging in age from 18 to senior citizens - were ushered into the waiting room. Television sets were mounted on the pillars around the room, all tuned to the inauguration.
"The first thing that struck me was the respectful silence of the people in the room. The clerk could be heard checking people in at the door, and an occasional person talked quietly on a cell phone while people in the vicinity frowned disapproval, but overall there was an ecclesiastic silence.
"On television, Diane Feinstein had just started the ceremonies, and she held the rapt attention of everyone in the room. All eyes were on the nearest TV, and the seats with backs to the TV were empty, while several of us stood around the edges. Even during the two musical performances, no one spoke."
When the time for the oath of office arrived, Feinstein asked everyone at the ceremony to stand.
"From across the jury room a middle-aged African American lady - I think she was a clerk - called out, 'C’mon people, this is history! Stand up!'
"As she moved into the crowd, gesturing with her arms, it was plain that she was not to be denied. Within seconds, all of us were on our feet. After the oath was administered, complete with flubs, our room filled with applause, punctuated with loud whoops, and several people were in tears.
"An older white man softly applauded as the new president thanked the outgoing president for his service to the country. During his comments on upholding the Constitution, as the camera focused in on an uncomfortable-looking Mr. Bush, there were scattered outbreaks of derisive laughter. When Mr. Obama acknowledged that we are a nation of various religions - and non-believers, too - a very Berkeley-looking lady in jeans and a flannel shirt clapped alone.
"When the speech was over there was more applause from our group, and not a few handshakes and hugs were shared. All stood in formal attention as the choir sang the National Anthem, and several of us joined in.
"The mood was broken only when the clerk interrupted the broadcast to remind us that we were here for a purpose, and he started the first roll call.
"It finally occurred to me that no court business would take place during the ceremony, as the judges were probably sequestered in chambers with their own TV sets. Time at the courthouse seemed at a standstill until the business of federal government was accomplished.
"After the second roll call my name still had not been called, and those who remained in the room - about a third of the original crowd - were thanked for our service and dismissed.
"I left feeling that I had literally been swept into participation in history. Jury calls have a way of taking us out of our comfortable routines, and, after a frantic start, the day turned out in a way I hadn’t planned. But somehow when it was over, it seemed just right."