Riding into the city on the morning of Inauguration Day, I could tell which of my fellow Red Line passengers were headed in to join the celebrations — the ones who were dressed like they were going on a ski trip. Clad in wool hats, thick gloves, heavy shoes, and North Face jackets, they were also armed with maps, bottled water, additional blankets and consumer friendly DSLR cameras. Snippets of chatter overheard were about getting to the vast lawns of the 146-acred National Mall as quickly as they could. “We’re almost there, get your Metro cards out. Don’t be fumblin’ for em at the turnstile,” said one mother to her two kids. “Metro Center is gonna be slammed. Let’s get out at Farragut North. The lines won’t be as long,” said a bearded man in a black furry hat to his friends.
Alas, what they failed to realize is that thousands of others were hatching similar strategies, and Washington D.C. has a system in place to handle crowds like this. Even with the help of of 1,500 Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts directing people on where to go, the best laid plans for a speedy commute would be thwarted by long queues at metro station exits, and then again at security checkpoints. With everyone rushing to grab spots closest to the Capitol so they could get the best view of Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony, getting to the Mall would be an unavoidably slow process. The best way to have handled the situation?
Breathe. Relax. Take in the scene on a momentous day that only happens once in four years.
Not that the inauguration wasn’t a good time. By late afternoon, after the ceremony had ended, generous rays of sunlight reached down and provided some relief to inauguration-goers from the chill hanging over the city. Uniformed personnel showed an impressive display of tight security all around the Mall area. District police, Maryland rangers and other military units lined Pennsylvania Avenue, keeping an eye out for potential troublemakers. (Even stopping in the middle of designated street crossing areas for more than five seconds to snap photos prompted a stern “Move along please,” from a stoic-faced uniformed officer.)
But the festive air was undeniable. Tunes blared from large speakers towering above everyone else. The playlist was designed to please everyone, and it did. All along the parade route, I saw people heartily mouth the words of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” and jig happily to Katy Perry. A elderly lady in a cream fur hat and coat even rose from her electric wheelchair to do a little two-step to a motown track, much to the delight of the gathered crowds on the sidewalk. The parade ended up being over an hour late, but once it started, no one cared about their freezing hands, noses, feet and ears. The parade had finally started, and maybe they’d catch a glimpse of the president and his wife!
It turns out that spectators who were positioned at the right spots did get to see the president and Mrs. Obama emerge from their motorcade and walk along the parade route, waving to the cheering crowd. I wasn’t so lucky, as I’d been standing on a large flower pot outside the Newseum with four others, close to the starting point of the parade. From this viewpoint, I also noted that not everyone was there to bask in the celebrations. Groups of “activists” chose this day to steal away some inauguration attention for their causes. I use quote marks simply because the ones that showed up were either an individual sitting high up in a tree, yelling anti Planned Parenthood statements at passers-by, or a miss-mash of small groups no one’s ever heard of. Only that extremely offensive Kansas church (name not given in the interest of not showing them even the slightest bit of recognition — it rhymes with Marlboro,) had any national recognition, but even they were just a group of seven.
I’m glad that I got to witness this moment along with Americans from all walks of life: from the ardent, Obama supporters proudly clad in hats and blankets emblazoned with the president’s name or portrait printed on, to middle-class white parents with their young children in tow, to the ethnically mixed groups of twenty-something, D.C. hipster professionals — the faces of the most powerful nation in the world. It’s a very wonderful thing to be born in a nation with a democratic system in place, and I wonder if people sometimes forget their fortune. As Obama said in his inaugural address: “Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people…You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”
Whether you voted for him or not, how can you disagree with that?