President Barack Obama embraces retiring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., as members of Congress applaud before his State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Saul Loeb/AP)

James watched the State of the Union address at a crowded watch party at Busboys and Poets at 5th & K Sts. on Tuesday night. Many were blogging, tweeting, texting and live-streaming from their laptops.

Some argued that “the people” aren’t doing enough. While others pointed out how the Occupy movements are challenging corporate greed and irresponsibility.

The people are challenging criminal injustice, too. Recall the case of Troy Davis. A couple of the brothers at Busboys were disappointed that their president had failed to address either of those matters.

A few blocks away, the African-American Leadership Council’s (AALC) youth contingent watched President Obama lay out his legislative goals. It was déjà vu.

Remember when we cheered at watch parties, awed by Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and again at inauguration parties the day he was sworn in? The cheering was noticeably tempered at the two watch parties I attended Tuesday. The AALC’s party for the 40-and younger crowd (some of us defied the age limit) was held at Lima Restaurant at 14th and K Sts.

Patrick Gaspard, White House advisor and executive director of the Democratic National Committee, asked people to look back to a few years ago. “You all remember when Barack Obama was sworn in that cold day in January when he stood on the steps of the Capitol, the steps and the Capitol that were built by slaves...”

Four years after that fateful day of swearing in our first African American president, we are enjoying unseasonably warm weather, but so many are out in the cold economically, having lost jobs, houses and hope. We’re told there’s a rainbow at the end - a rainbow we must help create. Gaspard acknowledged the discontent in the black community, but reminded the crowd of its promise.

“You all are the most powerful generation of African Americans that ever lived in this country. We know what we inherited. We know where we come from. We know where we are today,” Gaspard said, referring to the housing and economic crisis the current administration inherited. “It’s now your responsibility to go out and amplify that message. Let people know we are at a make-or-break point for the middle class.”

For me, the mere excitement of the President’s speech and the two watch parties brought me back the glory days of 2008. That year, that campaign had been exciting beyond anyone’s imagination. This year, my excitement is tempered by the harsher reality of what change requires, what it exacts. I got the feeling at the watch parties that others’ excitement is tempered as well - for now. But it’s early in the season.

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