Inauguration 2009: Mingling in a party of 1.8 million

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning, less than 24 hours after Barack Obama and Joseph Biden took their oaths as the President and Vice President, the rising sun over the nation’s capitol was a deep orange-red through the haze. Lacy ice covered ponds outside my hotel in Alexandria, Va., as well as parts of the Potomac River.

Today’s temperature in the low 20s was slightly colder than when the first of an estimated 1.8 million people began gathering 24 hours ago on the National Mall to witness the official transfer of power from President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney.

On Martin Luther King Day, the day before the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, the mood was upbeat at a private party in Washington. Guests chatted in threes and fours in the kitchen, in the foyer and in the dining room. A mountain of winter coats covered the bed upstairs. The guests expressed hope and excitement over the incoming administration. One guest said, “I’m glad I voted for change.” Another, anticipating his trek to Inauguration 2009, said to his new friends, “Good luck tomorrow. Hope to see you there.”

The private home is several blocks from downtown Washington, which was filled with traffic five hours after the usual business day ended. Pedicabs carried passengers dressed formally and with lap blankets. Clothing stores and souvenir shops were open, some with their wares on racks and tables on the sidewalk.

Not far away, vendors in their white tents close to the National Mall were preparing for a busy Jan. 20. They were stacking and opening boxes of baseball caps, T-shirts, tote bags, sweatshirts, posters, postcards, bookmarks and other souvenirs emblazoned with Obama’s likeness or words. City crews were erecting steel fences and concrete barricades closing streets along the National Mall to private vehicles. Police officers from cities across the nation were part of the security force. The Metro rail system was anticipating a crush-level load of passengers.

Police conducted a final security sweep of the National Mall at 3 a.m. on Inauguration Day. Visitors began arriving an hour later. By 6 a.m., about six hours before the official event, more than 930,000 people had ridden the Metro. By 6:15 a.m., according to a television reporter, most of the good spots along the parade route were occupied.

“My feet are cold but my heart is warm,” a woman told a television crew trolling the crowd for comment.

“I’ve been out here six-and-a-half hours, but it doesn’t matter,” a man told the TV crew.

The people pouring onto the streets from the Metro stations and trains and chartered buses represented America’s ethnic diversity. They arrived in waves, creating a sea of humanity over the two miles between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. There were tense moments when paramedics had difficulty edging their ambulances through curb-to-curb crowds. Members of a youth group from Michigan wore lime-colored caps to help adults keep track of everyone. In many places, the people stood shoulder to shoulder. Those not close to the historic proceedings saw the events on giant TV screens and heard the solemn oaths on echoing loudspeakers.

A brave few watched from perches in the forks of trees. Others full of exuberance climbed onto the roofs of portable toilets, occupied or not, near 14th Street and Independence Avenue. They only smiled at warnings from the crowd that they would regret falling through the toilet roofs.

In the final hours leading up to Obama and Biden taking their oaths of office, cheers (mostly) rolled across the mall. The sparkle in the eyes of the crowd matched the brilliance of the flashes of their cameras. Though shivering on this sunny day with its subfreezing weather, they cheered or clapped or waved American flags when Obama’s name was mentioned. They spelled Obama’s name in a group cheer. They greeted Bush’s name with boos. After Obama finished his oath of office, becoming the new commander in chief, some in the crowd shed tears. Many clapped. Others shared kisses or hugs. One could almost feel a wave of relief sweep away the brisk January temperature.

The crowd bundled against the cold with layers of clothing had hopes in their hearts. Their dreams have been the focus of countless news reports in recent years. They are tired of war, of careers and pensions cut short by layoffs, of vanishing investments and of the pain of an economy run aground. They are tired of the lack of civility in partisan politics, of political leaders demonizing the opposition.

Voters are anxious for new beginnings, positive changes and cooperation in politics, a message of optimism heard many times during the campaign that led to the Nov. 4th election of Obama and Biden.

 

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Jan 21st, 2009

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