The Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama – A Political Odyssey January 21, 2009Posted by Robert in inauguration, Music, Not Political, Politics, Travel.
Tags: Barack, Barack Obama, inauguration, Joe Biden, Maryland, Metro DC, Michelle Obama, National Mall, Obama, Rick Warren, US Capital, Washington DC
We woke well before dawn, determined to be on one of the first metro trains out of Silver Spring station. Our plan was to get to the National Mall before 5am so that we could have great placement for the swearing in ceremony of our 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama. We were on a mission, one we were determined to complete no matter what stood in our way. And between the trains, people, gates, police, automobiles and the bitter cold, it was clear very early in the day that this wasn’t going to be a walk in a national park.
The snags started almost as soon as our train pulled out of the station. Our operator came over the PA system and pleaded with us to make sure that we didn’t block any of the doors on the DC Metro as the doors do not operate like elevator doors. That is, they do not re-open completely if something gets in their way while closing. They just open back up a tiny bit and then close again. If someone repeatedly stops them from closing, the train has to be completely shut down and all passengers have to be off loaded and get on the next train. Our operator informed us that the train directly before ours had to be off loaded because there were to many people holding the doors. After a few minutes stopped on the tracks, he came back on and said that another train in front of us had to be off loaded as well, and we were going to be receiving all the passengers from both these trains.
You can probably guess what happened next. When we arrived at our next stop, not one person got off. Instead about 3 times as many people as were already on the train attempted to board. We were quickly filled to capacity but more still attempted to enter and proceeded to, you guessed it, block the doors. This was the first time I realized that these strangers around us might actually be capable of getting a bit violent. When the people who were blocking the doors refused to get off and wait till the next train, a few people shouted at them angrily. One man said “If this train get shut down, i’m gonna knock you the (expletive deleted) out!”
Gladly, the doors did eventually close and the train began moving. We arrived in DC a few minutes later, greeted by the most crowded station i’ve ever seen at 5 in the morning. We made it through the throngs of people and up to the surface, greeted by the beautiful site of the Capital Building.
It never even seemed like we made a conscious decisions as to which side of the capital to walk. We just went to the right. I now realize that the day could have turned out completely differently if we had chosen the other path. In choosing the north side of The Mall as our entrance, we were told by several different police officers that they wouldn’t be opening the gates into the mall until 7am. We fount a large crowd of people waiting to walk through the tunnel onto the National Mall at 3rd and Indiana.
So there we waited, convinced that we were in the perfect spot to get on the mall in a good spot. Boy were we mistaken. After 7am rolled around and nothing happened, people started getting antsy. We should have been suspicious when we couldn’t get onto The Mall as soon as we arrived. Everything we read from the official inauguration webpages said that the mall was open at 4am.
We stayed at that entrance until about 7:45, when we were told that they were going to begin letting people in 50 at a time. By then there had to have been a crowd of at least 10,000 people and that might be a gross under-estimate. After doing the math and getting almost trampled by people trying to leave the giant group of people, we decided to adjust our strategy and make our way to the south side of the National Mall.
It was a long walk around The Capital made longer by the fact that so many streets were closed to pedestrian traffic. Then began the pattern of being told by the police that the entrance was only a few blocks away. First it was 4th and Independence, then 7th, then 10th, then 12th. When we got to 14th and Independence things got very tight. It’s a very unnerving feeling to be on a public street that would under normal circumstances be completely open and airy and have that street become so crowded with humanity that you can only move by shuffling your feet. Couple that with the collective desire of the entire crowd being only to get to a place where they can truly feel like they would bear witness to this historic event. People were getting frustrated because the lack of information coming from those in uniform was surprising. They began hoping over the barriers to the National Mall. Some guards tried to stop them, but when there are thousands of people trying to get somewhere, there’s little you can do without coming off as overbearing. It was clear that Washington DC wanted to present an atmosphere of tight security that didn’t cross-over into something resembling marital law.
The streets became so engorged with humanity that for a second I wondered if all this trouble was worth it if we were never even going to make it into The Mall. That’s when the crowds finally opened up and we were for the first time all day, able to see people actually being able to enter The Mall freely. People were literally running out of the crowded streets toward the Washington Monument. It was a moving and surreal sight.
We entered the mall over 5 hours after we had set foot in DC and immediately walked to the base of the Washington Monument. We hung around there for a bit taking photos and marveling at the sheer number of people gathered. It became clear that we weren’t going to get a great view of any of the large screens that had been set up, so we decided to move a little further towards the front of the World War 2 Memorial. There we stayed for the length of the inauguration ceremony.
Many moments of the swearing in were particularly moving or memorable for me.
Any time that Barack, Michelle or either of their girls were shown on screen, the crowd would go wild.
When President Bush was mentioned or shown on the screens, the crowd would break into choruses of “Nah Nah Nah Nah. Nah Nah Nah Nah. Hey Hey Hey. Goodbye!” or “Hit The Road Jack.” Perhaps a tad juvenile yes, but still an incredible thing to witness.
Rick Warren’s invocation was heartfelt and moving in my opinion. I was very curious to how the crowd would receive him as the decision to have him deliver the blessing was not met with overwhelming approval especially from the homosexual community. But the crowd seemed cordial if not genuinely appreciative of his blessing.
But the main event did not disappoint. President Obama’s oath of office was short, sweet and very moving. Even if the secretary choose not to read the oath but recite if from memory. The president paused several times because the secretary was incorrectly reciting the oath for him to repeat. But it felt like a touch of imperfect humanity, something that has permeated throughout this campaign, thankfully. It’s nice to know that for a town that likes to take itself so seriously, events can still show their beautiful imperfections.
Obama’s speech came in at about 18 minutes. It was very well received with the crowd, especially the parts about not sacrificing civil liberties for temporary safety or our standing as a world leader for I’m paraphrasing of course, but it was all in there and it was nice to hear the words coming out the mouth of the president for once and not just those whom some would label as defeatist or apologist. It really seemed like our leader’s ideals were in line with our own. At least it did for myself and those around me in The National Mall today.