Road to Rosa

Something I wrote back in 2009 right after doing sound for the presidential inauguration. No, it’s not a political piece, just a comment on history.

The HOW-TO Sound Workshops were recently honored by having our chief instructor Mike Sokol chosen to handle significant audio responsibilities for the presidential inauguration. Inauguration attendees were moved by the sheer magnitude of the festivities, but Mr. Sokol found himself captivated by a simple city bus… Mike felt both elated and humbled to play a part in the historic occasion.

Following is Mike’s first-hand report on his time at the inaugural ceremony … and more. We thank the sound company Maryland Sound for asking him to participate in the historic event.

JMS_WH_400 I recently came out of live-sound retirement to work on the sound install for the Obama inauguration. There’s not a lot of time for me to do live gigs anymore since I travel so much as a seminar instructor. Still, it was nearly impossible to resist working on an event so historical and challenging. So I signed up to work on one of the largest sound system events in history. My job would be to help install the speakers for the 2½-mile long parade route as well as plan and wire the sound system for the Presidential review stand and press feeds. Lots to do….

I pretty much knew what I was getting into since I’ve worked past Presidential Inaugurations and major events. There would be security issues — though I wasn’t prepared for the level of scrutiny due to the magnitude of this event. Let’s just say that I was constantly sniffed by bomb-detecting dogs, and every road case opened and inspected. I was scanned with security wands and patted down, and my backpack was run through an x-ray machine. I felt very safe once inside the security perimeter except perhaps for those pesky government snipers watching my every move! The picture above is me standing in the rear of the review stand with my back to the White House. One step back and I would be over the “border” and possibly Tasered by some very serious Secret Service personnel. Yes, I was getting more than a little concerned.

Rosa_Parks__BusEverything went off as planned for the event, albeit with lots of freezing weather and several sleepless nights. But just when the inauguration and parade were winding down, a seemingly minor event occurred that really got me thinking. It was a simple city bus that took part in the parade to the White House. Lovingly restored, this old transit bus once played a part in one of our country’s turning points, for it was the bus that carried Ms. Rosa Parks when she sat in a “whites only” seat, and changed the course of American history.

What affected me the most was recalling that I had once met Ms. Parks when I ran sound for an event down in DC some ten years ago. She took my arm as I escorted her onstage and put a microphone in front of her. A pretty ordinary event as such things go. But the significance of this particular event was compounded because it also featured Oprah. Yes … that Oprah. Now it was amazing to me at the time that arguably the most powerful female personality in network television seemed to be humbled by this tiny old woman stepping onto the stage. I had never really thought much about Rosa Parks up to that point. Of course, I knew something of the Civil Rights movement, having studied my American History in high school, but it often takes meeting someone in person to make history come alive. And now I had met her bus.

Yes, this was the same bus where history made a U-turn. Up to that point it was fair to treat another human being as inferior. It was fair to degrade and debase anyone whose skin was a different color. It was fair to assume you were better than someone else based on looks alone. But by her simple yet brave act of defiance Rosa Parks showed that it was not fair to be treated as a lesser human being. And she made a difference in how the rest of the country viewed people of a different color and heritage. At the time I’m sure that no one dreamed there would be a black President. Now, however, that time is here. And whether you voted for or against President Obama, he now has taken on one of the toughest jobs in the country during one of the most critical times in our history. We’re facing economic turmoil of a level unknown to anyone under retirement age.

Now, I’m just a simple sound guy and teacher so I can’t offer words of wisdom on stock market issues or real estate investments. I am, though, a student of how people react both on and off-camera and will tell you that the fear you see demonstrated on-camera by the network reporters is indeed very real. Everyone is worried about their own jobs and the economy. And everyone is hoping for a magic wand  to make it all better. It all seems like an impossible job, but it all could come down to one person doing something positive for others. That person could be you.

Don’t sit around and wait for the government to fix things. Figure out how to improve the situation for yourself and others around you. Don’t wait for the stimulus money to filter down to your neighborhood jobs. Do something now that makes a difference for everyone in your own town. If you see something you don’t like in your workplace, work to change it for yourself and others. However, realize that despite the political rhetoric, change doesn’t happen overnight. And it certainly doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. But it can indeed happen in your own lifetime. The time to get started is now.

So, take a chance. Do something to make a difference for your own household and others around you. Help someone in your church who has lost their job. Plant a victory garden this spring to help feed your family and share the extra tomatoes with your neighbors. Take on a new career you’re a little afraid of. That’s how you grow personally and professionally. Plus, just when you think that a single person can’t make a difference, remember Rosa Parks and the road that leads back to her simple act of sitting where she wanted to on a city bus. So make your move. It’s only by helping others around us that we can all get through these trying economic times.

Copyright Mike Sokol 2009 — Road to Rosa

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