Amidst a flurry of bongo drumming, schoolboy catcalls, old lady smiles, and uproarious chanting, Torontonians watched Barack Obama take the oath of office at Bloor Cinema this morning.

Infectious energy and inspiration filled the place to the rafters, as people of all ages, colours, and countries of origin crammed into the theatre. Organizers attempted to ask people to leave the aisles, but spectators stayed put-a healthy vibe of freedom and celebration filled the air. As speakers stepped up to the microphone, the audience shouted for them to sit down-and let them watch the show. There was no time for stodgy speeches of thanks-this was a party.

"Toronto is notorious for not catching the beat sometimes," said Shawn Glynn. "But I think Bloor Cinema is totally ahead of the beat today."

Glynn, an African-Canadian, and his friend Gailsie Stewart, were keeping that beat alive, pounding celebratory rhythms on a djembe drum and a tambourine as they wove their way through the crowded lobby to their seats.

"This is not just a presidential election, this is humanity at its best," Stewart said, as young students from Royal St. George’s College cheered the CNN images being projected on the screen and U of T kids texted pro-green messages to the projector-screen on the side wall of the theatre, alongside elderly couples, sobbing church ladies, young people, and parents clutching infants. The diversity of Toronto was embodied by this crowd.

The unity inspired by such a vivid symbol of the triumph of human rights was displayed in the collective reactions of the crowd. Boos and hissing resounded as President George W. Bush made his public entrance, looking like a dog on his way to be neutered. The same reaction was given to Vice President Dick Cheney, and homophobic Michelin Man preacher Rick Warren.

Homophobia, war resistance, and a continued quest for change mean that for many, Obama’s inauguration is both a cause for celebration, and a call to action.

Warren, who gave the invocation at the opening of today’s ceremonies, campaigned hard in California to pass Prop 8, a proposition which eliminated same-sex marriage rights in that state.

The decision to have Warren speak at the ceremony was seen as a huge slap in the face to LGBT communities in California, the United States, and the world over, casting a cloud of persecution over this day that was supposed to represent so much hope for equality.

At Bloor Cinema, derisive laughter could be heard in response to Warren’s comments about treating all people with respect. An audience member texted "LGBT Torontonians for No on 8, Yes on Obama!" onto the projection screen.

Another cause getting attention at the cinema? War resisters. Activists like Janet Goodfellow and Cate Stoker were there in part to protest the deportation of Christopher Teske, an Iraq War veteran and war resister who had been living with his wife in Canada. Outside the theatre, someone held up a cardboard sign reading ‘Obama’s first human rights violation? Free Chris Teske.’

Goodfellow and Stoker still see the day as one of celebration, as well as an opportunity to spread the message of the suffering of Americans like Teske to their fellow Torontonians. For activists like them, it’s the power of the little guy that makes Obama’s victory so exciting.

"It was grassroots America who changed things," says Stoker, who is inspired by Obama’s ability to unite. "He reflects a diverse country, and will bring together disparate energies."

"A leader doesn’t change anything," Goodfellow agrees. "It’s the people who change things, and he is the symbol of change."

Indeed, Glynn and Stewart kept the party going strong with their music because for them, this day is ultimately a symbol of, and a catalyst for, change.

"People are tired of racism, sexism, homophobia," Glynn says. "Especially to Canadians, it’s a message that we need to catch up. It starts in the neighbourhood: Roll up our sleeves, get to work, and get back to building up society."

Agrees Stewart: "It’s motivating for everybody, for all the people who were static, and didn’t know what to do." Glynn echoes her sentiments, praising Obama’s choice of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State.

"It’s ideal. Male, female, black, white, leading the country. I love that he is half black and half white. Nobody can claim him! He’s a leader for everybody!"

"This is a profound chance for new beginnings, hope, and a new way of thinking," says older Annex resident Jack Harmer, who came out to the Bloor Cinema because he wanted to experience the historic moment with a crowd of people who feel the same excitement he does. On this monumental day, Harmer, too, feels this is only the beginning of an exciting new era of change.

"My goal? I want to be right here in line when the first woman becomes President, too."