On Obama’s last day in of­fice, a fi­nal trib­ute

Maryland Independent - - News - ABBY MERGENMEIER Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

WASH­ING­TON — On the eve of the pres- iden­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, about 800 peo­ple gath­ered Thurs­day to cel­e­brate and ap­plaud Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on his last day in of­fice.

An en­er­getic and di- verse crowd gath­ered at the Arena Stage for an evening full of mu­sic, danc­ing, art­work, food and drink to show their grat­i­tude for the coun- try’s first black pres­i­dent and the legacy he will leave be­hind.

First pop­u­lar­ized by an in­ter­net meme, the phrase “Thanks Obama” had been widely used by Obama’s critics to sar- cas­ti­cally thank him for any­thing rang­ing from health-care re­form to per- sonal trou­bles.

The “Thanks, Obama” event or­ga­niz­ers sought to use the non-sar­cas­tic, sin­cere mean­ing of the phrase to bring Obama’s sup­port­ers to­gether “to show ap­pre­ci­a­tion and grat­i­tude to the na­tion’s 44th pres­i­dent on his last day of of­fice,” ac­cord­ing to the Thanks, Obama web­site.

“These past eight years have meant a lot to me, and gave me hope,” Geor- gia McEl­roy, 41, of Balti- more said. “I’m happy to be here and cel­e­brate his legacy.”

Sev­eral peo­ple trav­eled across the coun­try to show their grat­i­tude for the out­go­ing pres­i­dent.

“I’m here to show my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for, I think, one of the great­est pres- idents we’ve ever had,” Caro­line Howard of Los An­ge­les said. “I think that he was very ad­mira- ble and gra­cious in all the things that he did in the face of all the crit­i­cism and all the neg­a­tive and dis­re­spect­ful things that were said about him and to him.”

Most guests heard about the event through Face­book, but some found it through dif­fer­ent means. Dan and Trevi Housh­older of Seat­tle dis­cov­ered it through Google searches.

“We had two goals,” Dan Housh­older said. “One was to go to the Women’s March and the other was to fig­ure out some way to thank Obama…. We just want- ed to find some way to deal with the [2016 pres- iden­tial] elec­tion re­sults.”

Halau Ho’omau, a Ha- wai­ian band and dance troupe, kicked off the evening with a tra­di­tional Hawai­ian per­for­mance as a nod to Obama’s up­bring­ing in the Is­land State. The dancers wore long red skirts and pukka shell neck­laces, their hair fas­tened with leaf bar­rettes, and hula-ed to the mu­sic.

Wash­ing­ton-based band Jus Paul played sev­eral songs, in­clud­ing a cover of Bob Mar­ley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” but changed the song’s lyrics to bet­ter fit the oc- ca­sion. The crowd joined in as the band sang the song’s cho­rus, “Obama, no cry” and “Obama, good­bye.”

“We were try­ing to fig- ure out how to con­trib­ute and how to re­ally honor Obama through a song, and there re­ally are no songs out,” Jus Paul band mem­ber Paul Spires said. “We just got cre­ative and came up with it.”

The evening con­cluded with a “clap-out” that be­gan with a minute-long roar of cheers, claps and screams, and soon turned into one minute of chant­ing such phrases as “Thanks Obama” and “Michelle 2020.”

“It was amaz­ing. I saw a lot of peo­ple cry­ing, get- ting emo­tional,” Naeema Butt, 26, of Ar­ling­ton, Va., said.

Butt moved to the Unit- ed States from Pak­istan six months ago and said she has been fas­ci­nated watch­ing the tran­si­tion of power be­tween Obama and Trump and said she

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