I am back from DC (yes, there is still snow in Chicago) and I have to tell you the inauguration was indescribable. Yes, I made it inside. Security was tight and the zoo at security in the colored zones (blue, silver, purple) was apparently beyond inept. Friends who scored tickets with the blue zone (VIPs who got to sit down) never made it inside. There is something to be said for joining the huddled masses on the mall. We were huddled and definitely masses, but I wouldn’t have traded a seat in the VIP section (well maybe where there was a chair) for the incredible experience of being with the masses on the mall. I am still celebrating (and still trying to warm up from the 6 hours plus standing on the mall for the ceremonies). Despite the frigid temperatures and the long wait for the inaugural address, it was a six hour party out there. My sister and I got to the mall by 6:30 am. Yes, if you do the math, I actually got up at 4:20 and was in the kiss and park to catch the metro downtown by 4:40 am. (Who knew an alarm clock actually worked at that crazy hour?) That shows you how much I wanted to be there; how crazy the crowds were and how slooooow Metro was (Over an hour 20 from West Falls Church metro on the orange line, for those of you that know the system). When people said they were afraid the DC subway system couldn’t survive the crunch on inauguration day, they weren’t kidding. I thought I was the early bird, but by 6:30am, when we made it past the phalanx of military and police, the first public area on the mall was already filled.
I’m sure you all saw me on the screen when they flashed the mall. That was me, in the green hooded jacket, standing in the second full section on the left hand side, cheering like crazy. Security was tighter than I have ever seen it. There were snipers on the roof tops, military helicopters both buzzing the area and hovering near the stand, soldiers and police lining the perimeters. Access to the mall was limited to the 14th street when I arrived, and it was a relatively narrow funnel. Can you identify all the forms of security uniform? I can’t, but on our way in we got a great review, local police, park police, we marched passed different types of police, military (they were the guys in camouflage outfits with guns) and some guys in dark outfits whose affiliation I don’t even want to begin to guess at.
People were celebrating from the minute we got there. Shivering, stamping our feet, trying to score some hot chocolate, we were freezing our [insert part of anatomy here] off. But that didn’t make the celebration any less heartfelt. People weren’t complaining about the cold, because the warmth of the moment itself was enough to keep you going. I saw plenty of inaugurals in my days in Washington, but I never saw so many people on the mall. By the end we were so jammed in, we were elbow to elbow. The Post had suggested the night before that you would have 2 meters of space. I think they were being optimistic. Is it two meters when you are standing shoulder to shoulder and nose to back? And photos on TV don’t do the crowd justice because the JumboTron scans showed us jam packed all the way back PAST the Washington Monument. People were watching the ceremonies from along the Lincoln Memorial. It was incredible. Got to be over 2 million easy.
Despite the narrow spaces, we were rocking to the Lincoln Memorial concert that was being broadcast before the inaugural events started. We were singing and dancing (frankly, you had to do something to keep the blood flowing), sharing hopes, and just plain old partying down. The warmth of the crowd kept you going. The talk back during the speech, the spontaneous applause, by different parts of the crowd at different times, showed that it was an historic moment, shared by an incredibly diverse crowd. Young, old, African American, white, latino, Asian, everybody was there, from all walks of life. Even one group of Canadians to the right of us, waiving a Canadian flag. It is a memory I will keep with me forever.
People were snapping pictures like crazy during the swearing in ceremony. But around me, once the inaugural address started, people took one photo and then put their cameras down to listen. 2 million people falling silent to listen and react to a speech is an amazing experience to be a part of. Of course, thanks to my sister, who was there with me, the drama continued after the inauguration. Just as President Obama (let me type that again, President Obama) finished his inaugural address, she collapsed from the cold, and I got a close up look at the first aid abilities of the military, the Park Rangers, and the Public Health Service officers that helped her. To my unending disappointment, I missed a perfect photo opportunity as four soldiers (three newly back from Iraq), put her on a stretcher and carried her down the length of the mall to the First Aid tent. She’s fine (thank, God) but the tents were full as a lot of people succumbed to the cold. From asthma attacks, to frostbitten limbs, to one poor women who was hooked up to an IV for dehydration plus frost bite, lots of people succumbed to the cold.
The party didn’t stop or the feeling that security is designed to make each person’s life as difficult as possible after the playing of Hail to Chief. Seeking warm shelter in the few open museums, along with millions of others of exhausted people, before making the long trek back to Virginia, we kept running into the inaugural parade because you couldn’t even cross Constitution Avenue. That left those of us (2 million people?) who were trying to go home left to travel through two metro stations (yes, two, the others were closed for security reasons): L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center Southwest on the other side of the mall. Have I used the word “zoo” yet to describe the scene? We waited in line one hour and a half just to get inside the metro station. Let’s not talk about how long it took to get on a train. Anyone who has been in Tokyo during rush hour will have some concept of the sensation as we crunched together into the cars. If anyone was feeling lonely, you wouldn’t be after that cozy ride. Despite the cold and the delays, though, people on the whole weren’t pushing or crowding. We were all still jazzed about the day’s events. The glow lasted the entire way home.
Doris Estelle Long